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Mobile operating systems typically show different virtual keyboards depending on context. The default keyboard might show A-Z, while a keyboard for entering a telephone number might show 0-9 (so you don’t have to manually switch to the keyboard view where the numerals can be accessed).

Numbers, URLs, email addresses and telephone numbers are obvious candidates. But what about passwords?

I don’t use smartphones regularly, but the few times I had to enter a password almost made me choose less complex¹ passwords just because it would be way easier to enter them. Typing a password like 8g*4bRv&3n_0)Ad2S!E is no fun when having to switch back and forth between the keyboard views. (Using a password like correct horse battery staple is a workaround, but of course no general solution.)

When entering a password, would it make sense to show a special password keyboard view by default? This view could include A-Z and 0-9 as well as the most common special characters. The secondary keyboard view could include rarer characters, and maybe even some kind of character search (so users are not excluded from logging in when they used characters not available on the default keyboards).

Advantages:

  • Entering complex passwords is easier.
  • Users might not tend to create less complex passwords out of convenience.

Disadvantages:

  • Requires more viewport space while entering a password.

The only reason I can think of why users would need to see the page/app when entering a password is when they create a new password and there are some password complexity requirements (like "at least 1 numeral, 8 characters long, …"). Is there anything else to consider?

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I believe the straightforward answer to this is a resounding yes. It would be a fantastic solution and one that clearly improves usability.

I think that given our knowledge that passwords are often a combination of characters, numbers and symbols, it is fairly a no-brainer from a usability point of view to provide a keyboard with more keys on it for password fields.

As the following mockup demonstrates, with a bit of effort, you can accommodate for the extra keys so long the OS will support such feature (the shift key can obviously toggle both the text and numeric/symbol keyboard):

A mockup of an iPhone with both text and number keyboards stacked.

  • Nice mockup. The only thing missing is a checkbox which keeps the letters input displayed rather than automatically hiding them with stars (which on the default setting on android happens too quickly to check what has actually been input). – PhillipW Sep 11 '14 at 11:26

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