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With iOS 18, iPhone's dialer will finally get the most basic smartphone feature

Android phones have had smart dialers since what seems like the beginning of time.

Published onJune 10, 2024

  • Apple will introduce T9 dialing to the iPhone dialer with the iOS 18 update.
  • T9 dialing allows users to type a contact’s name using the number pad, instantly suggesting matching contacts.
  • Until now, users have had to type in phone numbers or search for contacts through the Contacts app to make calls.

Apple’s WWDC announcements about iOS 18 mainly revolved around Apple Intelligence and the company’s implementation of AI in its core products. The feature that got me the most excited was that iOS 18 is finally bringing T9 dialing to iPhones. Is this a sign that I’m getting old? Maybe. But am I still thrilled about it? Absolutely.

What is T9 dialing?

T9, short for “Text on 9 keys,” is a predictive text technology that revolutionized typing in the pre-smartphone era. With T9, users could type in English words using a numeric keypad by pressing a single key for each letter (instead of having to multi-tap numbers to register letters), and the software would intelligently predict the word.

Since the early days of Android, T9 dialing has been a staple feature on its dialer apps. Users can start typing the name of a contact using the number pad, and the phone will immediately suggest matching contacts.

For example, to dial a contact named John in my phone, all I have to type is ‘5646’, and the dialer app will list all contacts with the word John in them. This makes dialing a contact a swift and seamless process, often achievable within just a couple of seconds.

T9 dialing is coming to iPhones

As seen from the video shared by journalist Varun Mirchandani (@beingmirchi on X/Twitter), Apple is finally embracing the power of T9 dialing in iOS 18. Now, you should be able to start typing the letters corresponding to a desired contact’s name, and the app will start suggesting contacts based on the key inputs.

Until now, iPhone users were conspicuously deprived of this convenient feature. The iPhone dialer remained stubbornly traditional, requiring users to either manually enter a phone number or navigate to the contacts page to search for a contact and then initiate a call. To me, this approach felt cumbersome and outdated even ten years ago, and it seems like many people share this opinion.

For what it’s worth, iOS does offer alternative methods for quick dialing. One such method is using Spotlight Search. Users can swipe down on the Lock Screen or Home Screen to access the Spotlight search bar, type the first few letters of a contact’s name, and tap the phone icon to call them directly.

While some would say that Apple’s omission of T9 dialing was justified, arguing that users who started with QWERTY keypads might not find it useful, the addition is still a positive change. iOS 18 beta is already available to download, and the wider public rollout is expected later this year.

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