Android users often get some features that iOS users don’t have. For the longest time, this included keyboards not made by Apple, which meant constant jibes from Android fanboys about Apple’s restricted system.
But with iOS 8, Apple opened the flood-gates, which allowed users to install third-party keyboards on iPhones, like SwiftKey, Swype, and many others. Who would have thought this would one day let Apple turn the tables on their Android counterparts?
Google recently launched a new keyboard for iPhones called Gboard, and it’s exclusively available on iOS right now. That’s right, even Google’s own operating system doesn’t have it. The kicker? It’s probably the best mobile keyboard you have ever used.
What’s Gboard All About?
Gboard looks just like the default iPhone keyboard, and you might not even notice the difference except for that Google ‘G’ logo in the top-left corner. But that’s what makes this app so special.
Tap that G and it opens Google search in the keyboard itself. Type what you want to search for, get suggestions, and browse the results — all without ever leaving the keyboard space or changing the app to go to your browser. To put it another way, Gboard is a Google Search browser baked into your keyboard.
But you can’t actually browse the links. Instead, the link acts as something you can see or share. For example, let’s say you’re talking with a friend in Messages and want to share the address of a restaurant to meet up at. Tap the ‘G’ button, search for the restaurant, and tap its location from the results. Google will automatically insert a Google Maps Card or the text address of the place, depending on where you tap.
Gboard Solves Multi-Tasking on Phones
In many ways, Gboard is the answer to the restrictions of a small screen and a virtual keyboard. That combination forces you to multi-task and switch between apps more than you’d like, which is what Gboard is trying to remedy.
Think about it: When you’re using a computer, switching between different tabs or apps isn’t a big deal. A quick Alt+Tab or Cmd+Tab will put you in Chrome, where you can search for what you want, copy the link, and go back. It happens in a matter of seconds.
On a mobile screen, things are different. You are switching from full-screen app to full-screen app through multiple taps or gestures. Then you start typing. Then you get results, but you can’t really right click and copy the link location. So you open the link, and then you copy the address. And if you need to copy text, it’s even worse, with that long press followed by adjusting the two tiny cursors till you get the selection of text just right. Ugh.
Multitasking is getting better, but it’s still a long way away from perfection. Till then, Gboard eliminates all those steps. It is reducing how much you multi-task on an iPhone, and this makes your life easier.
How Is Gboard As a Standalone Keyboard?
Searching links and auto-pasting text is awesome, but that isn’t the only thing that makes a keyboard great. You’re going to use the Google search feature, but you’ll be using it as a regular keyboard more often. So how does Gboard perform as a keyboard?
- Performance: I had no complaints with Gboard. The autocorrect is as good as the default iPhone keyboard, the long-press shortcuts for the special characters are in the same place or intuitive enough, and it doesn’t slow down.
- Swipe: Gboard, much like Swiftkey and Swype, lets you swipe-to-type. What this means is that you can trace a word without lifting your finger, and Gboard will predict it correctly.
- GIFs and Emojis: A brilliant feature of Gboard is the built-in search for GIFs and Emojis. When you type a word like “happy”, Gboard will automatically suggest the emoji for it. Search for “happy” in the Google search and choose “GIF” in the tabs below to insert an image from the language of the Internet.
In Gboard’s settings, you can choose to enable or disable any of these features, or others too. For example, if you use profanity while typing, you’ll probably want to disable Block Offensive Words.
GBoard and Privacy
Understandably, the biggest concern with Gboard is privacy. Google already knows a lot about you, and with this keyboard app, it can log everything you type! That can be pretty scary.
Thankfully, as it stands right now, Gboard doesn’t seem too scary. The privacy implications, laid out clearly in the App Store, indicate it doesn’t read what you type in other apps, apart from remembering things for spellings.
“Gboard will remember words you type to help you with spelling or to predict searches you might be interested in, but this data is stored only on your device. This data is not accessible by Google or by any apps other than Gboard,” Google says.
In fact, you don’t even need to sign in to your Google account to use Gboard. You can also grant Gboard access to your contacts (a feature enabled in Settings), so that you can quickly share the details of anyone in your phone book.
Problems with Gboard
While it’s a wonderful keyboard app full of various likeable features, it isn’t perfect.
- No Speech-to-Text: If you are used to talking to your iPhone and seeing your words translated into text, you’ll be disappointed with Gboard. There is no speech-to-text option, unfortunately. This is completely Apple’s fault, since it restricts third-party keyboards from using the built-in dictation feature, but it’s sorely missing here.
- iPad version isn’t good: I tried out Gboard on a first-gen iPad Mini. To be honest, I can’t see this replacing the default iPad keyboard. Its layout seems like a “stretched” version of the iPhone keyboard, rather than custom-designed for an iPad. I imagine it gets worse on a larger iPad keyboard, but even based on the Mini, I can’t recommend it.
- Limited Languages: Right now, Gboard supports only English as the language you can use. Compared to most other third-party keyboards or even the default Apple keyboard, that is incredibly restricted. At a time when SwiftKey supports hybrid languages, this is a big miss. Hopefully Google will add more languages in the future, but at the moment, if multi-language support is important to you, skip this app.
- Only in USA: At the time of writing, Gboard is only available in the US App Store. That said, if you’re not in America and you want to try it out, there’s a simple hack to download apps from the US App Store.
Comparing Gboard to Others
The big question, of course, is should you download Gboard, and how does it compare to other iPhone keyboards?
There are already some excellent GIF keyboards for iOS. Plus, keyboards like Swiftkey are brilliant and make up for Gboard’s shortcomings on the iPad front. Even if you don’t want to use third-party keyboards, the default iPhone keyboard is solid.
That said, Gboard feels like a taste of the future. Integrating search functionality into a keyboard is incredibly smart, and makes you wonder “why hasn’t anyone else done this yet?” It feels like what all keyboards should be like. If you use an iPhone, you need to get this now. And don’t worry, Google is working on perfecting the iPad version too.
Download: Gboard for iOS (Free)
Why Is Google Favoring Apple?
In a post on Product Hunt, Google product manager Bri Connelly said the company is working on a version for Android phones already, along with a multi-lingual version. But releasing this first on iOS is a surprising move.
We already know Microsoft loves Apple and iOS, but is Google now realizing that the iPhone is too big to ignore? Will we see more Google launches on iOS before Android itself?
What do you think, and have you tried Gboard? Share all in the comments below!