Few elements of iOS are more often lampooned than autocorrect. Criticisms which are broadly justified. After all, how often does someone use the word “ducking” as an adjective? I can’t count the number of times that I have inadvertently typed “New York” because I hit ‘n’ instead of ‘m’ when I was writing the word “my.” Yet, autocorrect is one of the most powerful, and overlooked, features in iOS. Not only does it correct typos, it can be programmed to turn any shortcut into a phrase. This may not seem terribly useful at first blush, but let me explain how you can leverage this tool to save you time and keystrokes.

You may not be aware of it, but you can actually create a dictionary of text expansion shortcuts in the settings on your iPhone. Go to Settings>General>Keyboard>Text Replacement. To create a new shortcut, just click the + icon in the top right corner. It will then allow you to enter a phrase and a shortcut. The shortcut is what you will type and the phrase is what it will be corrected too. For example, by default, “omw” corrects to “On My Way!”

Now, you might be getting an idea of how this could be useful. You can correct “ty” to “thank you,” “ilu” to “I love you,” or “thx” to “thanks.” But that’s just the beginning! With just a little creativity, you can turn those simple time-saving shortcuts into uber-powerful, workflow altering tools! I use four types of shortcuts on my iPhone: text expansion, Unicode, emoji shortcuts, and a fourth type of shortcut that is harder to describe.

Text Expansion

As a text expansion tool, the build in functionality is fairly limited. You cannot include line breaks or any kind of text formatting or HTML in expanded phrases–features available in TextExpander and similar application. Yet, it can be extremely useful in spite of these limitations. In fact, this is the most practical and time-saving uses for the text replacement feature. For example, “eml” is replaced with my personal email address and “weml” is replaced with my work email. “phn” is replaced with my phone number. Here are some other shortcuts that I use and have found useful:

  • “addr” β†’ home address
  • “cfa” β†’ “Chick-Fil-A”
  • “lrm” β†’ a paragraph of Lorem Ipsum
  • “xmas” β†’ “Christmas”
  • “pa” β†’ “Patriot Academy”

Unicode

Unicode symbols are basically more simplistic emoji. They are font characters such as stars, arrows, greek letters, and other symbols. I find these shortcuts especially helpful when I am taking notes on my phone. Especially my right arrow shortcut. It expands “-)” to β†’. I use lots of arrows when I am taking notes as a shorthand for ‘leads to’ or ‘results in.’ Another that I often use is “apl” to the Unicode Apple logo ( ο£Ώ). Here are some other useful Unicode shortcuts I use:

  • “tm” β†’ β„’
  • “str” β†’ β˜…
  • “L>” β†’ ↳
  • “pisig” β†’ ΠΣΑ
  • “cmd” β†’ ⌘

There is a great app for accessing and using Unicode characters on iOs called Simbol. You can use this to browse and find some characters that may be useful to you.

Emoji 🀯

Unlike Unicode, I don’t need t explain Emoji to anyone. They are practically a language unto themselves at this point (They even have their own dictionary). But given the fact that there are now hundreds of canonized emoji, scrolling through the iPhone’s emoji picker can be a flustering task when you are hunting for an oft-used character. Apple tried to remedy this with the recently used section but it can be hit or miss. One very useful trick is to convert old-fashioned emoticons into emoji. For example “:)” corrects to πŸ™‚ or “XD” corrects to πŸ˜‚. Here are some other useful examples to get you started:

  • “(:” β†’ πŸ™ƒ
  • “B)” β†’ 😎
  • “>:(” β†’ 😑
  • “:O” β†’ 😱
  • “<3” β†’ ❀️
  • “</3” β†’ πŸ’”

Another useful way to use text replacement with emoji is to use shortcuts to input symbols. I use this on my calendar. I like to use emoji in calendar events to make the name shorter. For example “Coffee with Savannah” is ” β˜•οΈ Savannah.” Another useful set of shortcuts are the check mark and the X. I use these in emails to communicate when a task has been completed. I put my shortcuts in brackets but a quicker way would be to prefix them with an ‘x.’ I.e. “[pn]” becomes “xpn.” Here are some of the shortcuts I use:

  • “[x]” β†’ βœ”οΈ
  • “[n]” β†’ ❌
  • “[i]” β†’ ❗️
  • “[ii]” β†’ ‼️
  • “[am]” β†’ πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
  • “[pn]” β†’ πŸ“ž
  • “[mt]” β†’ πŸ‘₯

Auto-Incorrect

Sometimes you use a word a lot that isn’t actually a word or a word that should be capitalized but isn’t by default, you can create a shortcut to fix that. For example, I work at the Mercatus Center. Mercatus is latin and, therefore, not recognized as a word by my English keyboard. By default, iOS corrects “mercatus” to “Markets.” This can be fixed by creating a shortcut where the phrase is “mercatus” and the shortcut is “mercatus.” Additionally, the “mercatus” should be capitalized. This can be accomplished by capitalizing the phrase portion of the shortcut. Thus, a word that was previously incorrectly autocorrected, is now corrected and capitalized. Here are a few examples of how I use this strategy:

  • “aggie” β†’ Aggie
  • “aldi” β†’ Aldi
  • “ar15” β†’ AR-15
  • “cpac” β†’ CPAC
  • “montview” β†’ Montview
  • “qi” β†’ Qi

Another use of this strategy is to outsmart autocorrect if you regularly mistype a particular word. For example, I often hit the “n” key instead of the “m” key when I am typing the word “my.” For some reason, autocorrect does not identify this as my intent and, instead, capitalized “NY” assuming that I was referring to New York. But I circumvented this by creating a text replacement shortcut where the phrase is “my” and the shortcut is “ny.” Here are some other uses for this strategy that I employ:

  • “haga” β†’ haha
  • “heyb” β†’ hey
  • “lil” β†’ lol (I rarely talk about rappers, so this doesn’t create an issue for me…)
  • “northb” β†’ north

This last use for text replacement is unique to each person. Very few of my shortcuts will probably be useful to you. But if you think through words that you often mistype or that get wrongfully corrected, you should be able to identify a few ways to leverage this tool.

I would love to hear from you about clever little hacks that you are using with text replacement! If you have any that you have been using or if this post inspired you to think some up, tweet at me! (@KyleGriesinger)