I haven’t geeked out about an app since Instagram became available for Android (back in my tech hippy days).
But there in my news feed, I saw it. Google had released another app for iOS, and this time it was a 3rd party keyboard. Apple has allowed 3rd party keyboards since debuting iOS 8 in 2014. I’ve tried a few, and all have met the same fate within an hour: digital banishment from my phone.
My biggest issue with 3rd party keyboards has been that their accuracy was never as good as Apple’s built-in effort. Perhaps it’s being used to the built-in keyboard’s idiosyncrasies, but I always found my typing accuracy plummeted on new keyboards. Inevitably I’d get frustrated having to make the umpteenth correction and just delete the stupid app.
Gboard was different right from the start, as Google smartly added their special sauce.
The keyboard looks similar to Apple’s default. The font is distinctly Roboto, which will drive some Apple purists nuts. I like the San Francisco font well enough, but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Roboto (I did say I was geeking out, wasn’t I?).
You can perform Google searches right within the keyboard, and doing so brings up Google Now cards with the results. These can be easily launched in Safari (oddly enough, no Chrome support yet). Gboard’s spellcheck is on point, comparable to the default keyboard. And that’s just for starters.
There’s support for gesture typing, a la Swype and Google’s default Android keyboard. You can easily select and paste GIFs from the app’s wide selection, and adding emoji is dead easy. It even has emoji suggestions (type “lol” and the emoji will show up as an autocorrect option). These little tricks add up to a lot value.
I downloaded Gboard as soon as it became available, and it has remained on my iPhone 6s Plus ever since. I even removed the default keyboard so it would no longer “accidentally” get set as the primary one.
There are bound to improvements in Gboard (Chrome integration, dark mode) but Google has done a very nice job in its initial iteration. They wisely kept everything good from the default keyboard but gave it a power user twist. The fact that Google was able to do so without cluttering the user experience is highly impressive.