This documentation was made on an iPad Pro, circa 2021 using iOS 14.5.1. Earlier and later versions may be slightly different. Also, I used a dark theme, so don’t freak out if your iPad’s interface looks different. To reiterate my geneeral disclaimer, I do not provide personal tech support to anyone using this page. It is provided for general information only. I hope it works for you as it has for me and many others.

Before Activating The Hawaiian Keyboard, Ask Yourself “Do I Really Need To?”

Back when we (Hale Kuamo‘o, UH-Hilo) were working with technology companies like Apple, our efforts were to empower those who were working in a primarily Hawaiian language environment. Therefore, our tools were designed to assist those that worked in Hawaiian and were creating curriculum for Hawaiian learners. It was not designed for those that needed to occasionally add the kahakō and ‘okina to text, though obviously it could be as useful for them, with some issues.

It is possible to type the ‘okina and kahakō without activating the Hawaiian keyboard, but simply using the English (U.S.) keyboard (and probably others that I have not tried. If you do a lot of typing in Hawaiian, I suggest you visit the page Hawaiian Support In iPhone/iPad/iOS For Power Users (Those Who Need To Type In Hawaiian A Lot). Otherwise, this is what you do to generate the ‘okina and kahakō without activating the Hawaiian keyboard.:

For lower-case vowels with kahakō, simply long-hold (press and hold on the vowel for a few seconds). You will see a list pop up of the various diacritics that can be added to any vowel (and some consonants).

For the ‘okina, you first need to clock on the “numbers and characters” key on the lower left side of the keyboard (it shows “?123”). When you’ve done this, you will see the various numbers and characters you can type. Choose the one that looks like a single, open quote.

Note: This is an ‘okina. Please don’t argue with me on this. I worked with the Unicode Consortium, Apple, and Microsoft on making this possible. It is not the same Unicode value as the character generated by the Hawaiian keyboard on Mac OS, but the glyph (the character shape) is the same, and this character is found in far more fonts than U+02BB is. If you don’t know what U+02BB is or means, that is even more reason not to argue with me about it.

Once you have pressed the ‘okina, it should be inserted into your text and you will be returned to whatever application into which you are entering the text.

This is the legacy text from 2010 regarding iOS support that I cam keeping here for documentation purposes.

In June of 2009, Apple added Hawaiian support in its operating system for iPhone 3.0. Rather than adding a new Hawaiian keyboard and requiring users to switch, the standard US Keyboard now allows you to insert the vowel-kahakī characters and ‘okina. Here’s how you do it:

  1. When you want to type an ‘okina-vowel, touch and hold down your finger over the vowel for a second or two, and it will pop-up a list of available diacritic characters (see the graphic at right to see how this list looks when I held down over the letter “a” on the keyboard). Whether the vowel-macron is to the right or the left depends on which vowel you are trying to type.
  2. For the ‘okina, press the “123” button to get to the keyboard with numbers and other characters. Hold down your finger on the apostrophe, and it will pop-up a list of curly quotes. Select the one that looks like a small number “6”.

After an update to iOS in 2010, the ū and Ū characters vanished from the keyboard, but they were later returned. So now, you should be able to type in Hawaiian on all Apple devices that use iOS – the iPhone, iPad and iPod (at the moment). Websites and emails sent in Hawaiian should also view properly, since the default font on these devices has the ‘okina and kahakō characters.

9 comments on “Hawaiian Support In iPhone/iPad/iPod/iOS (Easy Version Keyboard Activation Not Required)

Susan Najita says:

Aloha Keola,

This is great news! Can I ask if you know how to find the kahako_ and the ‘okina with an iPad 2 that has a wireless keyboard attached?


Susan Najita says:


This is wonderful news! This problem is the only thing keeping from going with the iPad. Can you advise on how to use the diacriticals with an iPad and the wireless keyboard together?


Aloha Susan, I don’t own an iPad, nor have I ever used one with an external keyboard. On Mac OS, you generate the diacritics by hold down option as you press on the vowels. I checked with a colleague who has one, and we couldn’t figure out a way to get it happening with his external keyboard either. I’ll look into it. Mahalo for pointing out that short-coming.

Vanessa says:

Aloha Keola,
I’m about to sign up for a distance learning course in ‘olelo Hawai’i, hopefully using an iPad. I see your last response regarding the iPad is over a year old. Have you worked out a way since then to add ‘okina and kahako to the text?

A hoaaloha and former hoahaumana nau

Aloha. There are docs on typing ‘okina and kahakō on iOS under the ‘Ōlelo Tech section of the web site. It’s very easy easy. If you have problems let me know

Paul Butler says:

In answer to the person who asked about using a wireless keyboard with an iPad, I have news to report: it can be done, but not completely with the wireless keyboard. You still have to use the on-screen keyboard (using keys) to get to the letters with macrons and the ‘okina. That does work as Keola described. I use an iPad Air 2 running iOS 8.x with a Belkin bluetooth keyboard. The or “function” key pressed with the “4” key on the top of the keyboard brings up the on-screen keyboard. You then either press the on-screen
key and then press, hold the apostrophe key, then slide up and to the right to get the ‘okina symbol, or press and hold the letter on the on-screen keyboard and slide (usually to the right) to get the vowel with macron. Be sure to press the key to get into caps mode when you want a capitol letter with macron. An example follows. The source is “He Mele Aloha” from ‘Oli‘Oli Productions, L.L.C.. The song is “Kō‘ula” and is just the first two lines of text. All of this is typed using the above setup:

Nani wale ē ka ua a‘o Kō‘ula
Kilihune nei ka ua li‘ili‘i

It is a little cumbersome but you get used to it eventually. I understand there are other wireless keyboards available, and they may work differently than the setup I have. But, at least one of the more modern combinations works!

The past several versions of iOS have included a Hawaiian keyboard layout. I was able to get wireless keyboards to generate the ‘okina the same way they are on a Mac keyboard – hold down “option” as you press the vowel, and the apostrophe key generates the ‘okina. If you want the regular apostrophe, hold down the option key.

This doesn’t work if your wireless keyboard doesn’t have an option key or something equivalent. Also, this won’t work if you don’t have the ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i keyboard selected in iOS – it will generate something else.

I haven’t tried this for a couple of years, but hoping that it still does. I don’t have a wireless keyboard for my iPad at the moment, but will try next time I do.

Paul Butler says:

Added comment: the “‘okina” that has been mentioned may not be the real ‘okina you were looking for. It looks close enough, but if you import it into an application that recognizes Hawaiian text, it may turn out to be something else. I don’t have a Mac to test this, and have only just found reference to it as a possible issue. So, use at your own risk!

Aloha. The issue you raise is important but I’m really not doing this kind of work anymore so can’t address it. Apple opted to use a different unicode character for the ‘okina in the iPhone that Mac OS, it’s not the character that is generated by the Hawaiian keyboard on Mac OS. So it does display properly in most cases. But there are deeper issues (searchability on Google and other search engines). So for folks that simply want to text back, use it on Facebook, or send emails and know that the ‘okina will display, it’s fine. Macs, PCs and just about everything else will display it properly. Microsoft also opted to use that character for the Hawaiian keyboard that shipped with Windows starting with Win 8.

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