When Pantone announced it was teaming up with Brightkey to release its own custom iPhone keyboard, I got excited. Brightkey is a simple third-party keyboard for iOS 8 that has some cool features–you can swipe up to send a text macro to someone, and scrolling along the spacebar works as a way to quickly scroll back or forward in a text field. It also allows users to customize the look of their keyboard to suit their own aesthetics, offering up a range of colors and textures.
But after Brightkey contacted me, telling me I could take an early version of their Pantone keyboard for a spin, I have to admit, I’m disappointed. It’s just a huge missed opportunity. It’s not the true keyboard of colors I was envisioning. It’s just a theme pack that will dress up your existing Brightkey keyboard with one of 11 Pantone swatches. And that’s it.
If you have a real love affair with Pantone, maybe that’s enough. And certainly, Brightkey doesn’t promise anything groundbreaking: they’ve always been focused on letting users customize the look of their iOS keyboards, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But to me, the first Pantone keyboard for iOS was a real bummer. It could have been just so much more.
Imagine an iOS keyboard that made it easier to talk about color. An iOS keyboard where you could just cycle through a virtual palette and tap on a color to name it. A keyboard where, if your girlfriend texts you and asks if you could drop off her caramel boots–not the scarlet ones–you actually know what the hell she’s talking about. A proper color keyboard, provided by Pantone, could make that a reality.
Pantone is one of the only universal dictionaries of color definitions accepted by everyone. It’s a universal point of reference. By licensing its name to an iOS keyboard, then, it was presented with an incredible opportunity to integrate a dictionary of color into a platform that 53% of all smartphone owners use daily. And its a dictionary we need.
As humans, naming colors and talking about them is a big hurdle in the way we communicate. Humans are pretty good about talking about the Roy G. Biv colors, but much, much worse at talking about the different shades of ROY and BIV: magenta versus orchid, or apricot versus atomic tangerine. Studies seem to suggest that this is an issue of nurture, not nature: that if we taught kids to recognize more shades earlier in life, they’d have an easier time of it. As it is, though, without a point of reference, there’s just too much uncertainty about whether or not the words we’re using to describe a certain color are actually universal.
Pantone and Brightkey could have given us the color keyboard as a color dictionary. Instead, they gave us a coat of paint. But if that doesn’t bother you, the Pantone theme pack is currently in private beta. The final version will soon be available for iOS 8 by installing the Brightkey keyboard here.