Apple’s forthcoming iOS 5 release includes one nifty new feature that the company hasn’t talked about, but that will likely change the way you use your phone to write anything from text messages to emails: custom keyboard shortcuts. Tools like Typinator, TextExpander (App Store Link) on the Mac and PhraseExpress on Windows have made this concept popular among those who have to write a lot on the desktop. iOS’s closed architecture makes it hard for developer to create system-wide tools like this, however. While TextExpander offers an iPhone app, for example, that tool only works in the 100 apps that support its service. Apple’s own shortcuts work system-wide.

Shortcuts are defined in the keyboard settings menu. Once you define one of these short abbreviations (say ‘tyvm’ for ‘thank you very much’), it will work in any app across the system. For those who often have to write very similar emails, this feature will make a big difference, as you can now use these shortcuts in every app on your phone.

Apple could potentially do a lot more with this app. While TextExpander and Co. let users create very intricate shortcuts that can insert today’s date or position the cursor in a specific position in the expanded sentence, this new iOS 5 is rather plain. For those who only have a limited number of shortcuts they need to use, though, it’s perfectly usable.

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