How to Enable & Use the Virtual Keyboard in Mac OS X
The Virtual Keyboard feature of OS X is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a software-based keyboard that can be used as an auxiliary onscreen keyboard to type anything on a Mac. These virtual keys are pressable by clicking on them with a cursor, rather than tapping the physical keys on a hardware keyboard.
Enabling this screen keyboard is a little hidden away in system preferences, but it’s very easy to show, hide, and use, once it has been made accessible:
- Open System Preferences and go to “Keyboard”, and look under the “Keyboard” tab
- Check the box next to “Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in menu bar”
- Pull down the newly visible Keyboard menu and choose “Show Keyboard Viewer”
- Place the keyboard on screen in the desired location, and resize the newly visible keyboard as necessary by dragging the corners
This onscreen keyboard can input text anywhere, so not only can it be used for standard typing but it can be used for entering passwords, and even key presses for games and other apps. It will also always hover atop of existing windows or screen content, and in a lot of ways it’s like the software keyboards on iOS devices, minus the touch screen of course, but it is equally as universally applicable across everything on the Mac.
Closing out the screen keyboard must be done by clicking the actual close button on the keyboard window itself, or by going back to the keyboard menu and choosing “Hide Keyboard Viewer”. It is intentionally unresponsive to the normal Command+W close window keyboard shortcut.
Virtual keyboards are primarily aimed at providing a typing solution for those who find it easier to use a cursor than keyboard and it does wonders for that, but it can serve other purposes too. It’s wildly useful if you wind up in a situation where the hardware keyboard on a Mac suddenly stops working, be it from water damage or otherwise, especially when the liquid exposure tricks didn’t work out. And, as an educator recently showed me, it can function as an incredibly helpful tool to learn touch-typing, particularly for those who are learning to type without looking at their fingers (cardboard box over the hands and all!), because the keys being pressed show as such on screen. Yes there are apps out there that serve the same function, but this is already built into Mac OS X, which makes it an excellent immediately usable solution that doesn’t require downloads or purchases.