I have an iPad Pro with the Apple Smart Keyboard, which works well. I usually use it with the Colemak hardware keyboard layout, which comes built in to iOS.

I know that it is possible to install apps which give you custom virtual keyboards. Is it possible to do a similar thing but for hardware keyboard layouts?

In my case, I have a custom layout that I use on my computer to type the special characters in the International Phonetic Alphabet, and it would be nice to be able to use it on my iPad too.

(Please note that I am not asking how to install third-party virtual keyboards; I specifially want to install a hardware keyboard layout.)

2 Answers 2


Creating a hardware keyboard layout for iOS require you to assemble a .uchr file for the layout. This format is documented in the Unicode Utilities reference for the Carbon API. Such files could at one time be created with the klcompiler tool in the Font Tool Suite (!), except that it created big-endian output (probably from the PowerPC time) and iOS required little-endian output (more typical of the ARM processor), and this tool has since been retired from the Apple Download Centre, since it was 32-bits only (and there are only 64-bit versions of macOS remaining).

To install such a layout, it should be put in the /System/Library/KeyboardLayouts directory, which is not writable by the mobile user, but only by root. In addition, it is undocumented how new layouts are registered with the system - iOS does not scan this directory for new files as macOS does. A hack around this was to overwrite one of the existing layouts, e.g. USBKeyboardLayouts.bundle/uchrs/Colemak.uchr, and then select this one to activate it, but this would of course violate the checksum integrity of that layout.

  • 1
    Has anyone actually tried it?
    – jendas
    Sep 22, 2019 at 8:49
  • @jendas (+) Decompiling layout files to learn the structure: partially, (+) Monkey-patching an existing layout: yes, (+) Building a layout file from scratch: no, (+) Installing a new layout: no.
    – RolKau
    Sep 27, 2019 at 18:41

No, it is unfortunately not possible at this time without a jailbreak. Apple simply doesn't allow 3rd party apps to do this yet.

  • 1
    Consider elaborating upon this with why not, maybe a relevant link or two (not just a link, an explanation too!), and say what you could do if the iPad was jailbroken. Otherwise this will get downvoted and then deleted.
    – owlswipe
    Dec 5, 2016 at 2:07
  • 1
    @owlswipe I don't see any need for the additions you request. Apple simply doesn't allow 3rd party apps to do this yet, and nobody answering here needs to provide details on jailbreak programming. Dec 6, 2016 at 15:00
  • Any update with respect to the newer versions of iOS?
    – jendas
    Sep 22, 2019 at 8:50

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