It took a while for me to try Googleâ€™s Gboard because third party keyboards took a while to really become usable on iOS. Fortunately, the iOS 10 beta has been much better with third party keyboards, so Iâ€™ve been able to give Gboard a real shot over the past few weeks.
The biggest feature of this keyboard is its direct access to Google search. You can bring up a mini search bar from right within the keyboard in any circumstance, regardless of what app youâ€™re in.
One easy use case for this is when youâ€™re chatting. If youâ€™re talking to a friend about a restaurant for that evening, you can just Google it and insert the address without ever leaving the app. This isnâ€™t a huge deal if youâ€™re on an iPad because you have Split View and hardware keyboard controls to switch apps, but given the iPhoneâ€™s focus on full-screen apps, this could be a huge time saver. I used to have to double tap the home button, switch to Safari, start the search, copy the URL, and then head back to Messages. Gboard lets me start the search right from the keyboard and then tap on a search result to place it right into the message window. All I have to do after that is press Send.
This is also a big deal outside of chats. If Iâ€™m creating a new note about a product I want to buy, Gboard makes it easy to insert links and pictures. These would normally be two separate searches â€” one for the website link and another to copy an image â€” but Gboard allows me to capture both of these things with a single search.
Gboard features swipe typing, which is nothing new to iOS any more. Swype and SwiftKey support this input method as well. There isnâ€™t too much to say about this particular feature aside from the fact that it works, and I havenâ€™t had any issues with it. The more interesting implementation of swipe typing on iOS is actually from Microsoftâ€™s Flow keyboard, which Iâ€™ll be reviewing next.
Swipe on the Spacebar
One of the things I miss when moving to a third party keyboard is the 3D Touch integration of the QuickType keyboard. iOSâ€™ default keyboard recognizes hard presses and switches into a very handy trackpad mode, which is useful for correcting typos or jumping to a different line in a paragraph. Third party keyboards canâ€™t access this feature, but Gboard does get pretty close. You can swipe along the spacebar to move the caret around on the screen. You canâ€™t swipe up to move to a different line, but it covers 90% of my needs.
If I had to pick one thing I really dislike about Gboard, it would be the emoji key. I hate having it beside the spacebar. Even weeks into using the keyboard, I still find myself accidentally tapping it mid-sentence and then dropping a lot of different yellow faces into my current message. Given that Gboard has an Emoji search feature, I really think we should have the option to remove the key, and just have a longer spacebar.
Remembering to Search
Itâ€™s silly to even say out loud, but the biggest challenge of using Gboard has been remembering that the search features are there. Itâ€™s not that theyâ€™re not placed prominently enough in the UI, but rather that Iâ€™m breaking years of trained behaviour. Even though it would be faster to use Gboard, I often forget to do so and end up switching apps.
This isnâ€™t a problem with the app itself. Itâ€™s a free keyboard thatâ€™s running very smoothly on iOS 10, and all of its main features are working as advertised. I just need to update my own behaviour to take full advantage of Gboard.