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Google Aims to Build a Better iOS Keyboard

By Richard Adhikari
Mar 24, 2016 2:36 PM PT
google-ios-keyboard

Google has been developing a third-party keyboard for Apple devices in an effort to increase the number of Google searches on iOS, according to a report published Tuesday in The Verge.

The keyboard, which is being tested internally, reportedly would incorporate a number of search options and a Swype-like feature to guess the intended word when a user slides a finger from one letter to another.

It apparently has buttons for picture and GIF searches, and would let users launch traditional Web searches when they tap the Google logo.

The keyboard looks different from the standard Android keyboard, which doesn't have text- or image-based searching.

"It's a bit of a no-brainer for Google to try to occupy this space," remarked John Jackson, a research VP at IDC.

"It has a legitimately differentiated proposition between Swype's functionality and the prospect of easy access to highly subscribed Google services," he told TechNewsWorld.

Cracking Apple's Walled Garden

Search frequency is lower on mobile devices, Jackson said, so "the motivation for Google to insinuate as much of itself as possible into the mobile experience is high. An iOS keyboard has some potential to help its cause."

If the project is real, however, the devil will be in implementation, Jackson cautioned, as "any friction -- even the tiniest ask of a toggle -- in the user experience is likely to severely limit adoption."

"Third parties have been trying to drive a proprietary wedge into Apple's locked-down ecosystems since the beginning of time," observed Cliff Raskind, a senior research director at Strategy Analytics. "Jack Dorsey and Square did this quite cleverly using the headset jack."

Apple has relaxed its policies, particularly around letting the sandbox that apps can play in get "a bit closer" to core phone functions, he told TechNewsWorld. "If allowed, the keyboard is a very desirable entry point."

Apple began allowing third-party keyboards in iOS in version 8.8, and several are available.

Google has at least one team of developers creating apps for iOS, and dozens of apps for the iPhone and for the iPad are available in Apple's App Store.

"I would be surprised if Apple would allow a way to invoke Google Voice rather than Siri, but a way to get to Google's text search is not out of the question," Raskind said. Further, Swype and similar solutions "have made soft QWERTY composing much more efficient, especially the longer the words you use, beyond [being] an entry point to Google's search."

However, the accuracy of Apple's character-by-character keyboard "has historically been relatively good as soft keyboards go," he pointed out.

Not Needed?

A search-enabled keyboard is unnecessary, according to some readers responding to a 9to5 Mac story on the issue.

"Why would I need a keyboard to instantly perform a web search, where I can do right from the home screen 'swipe down and start typing,'" remarked mytawalbeh, who has tried out SwiftKey. "I barely use Google, the only app I have on my iPhone [is] Google Maps."

"I stopped using Google as my default search engine on my iOS devices ever since Apple added support for DuckDuckGo," halrepublic said.

"You do realize that Google does, in fact, record pretty much everything you do on one of their services in order to target you for their ads. This profiling is also a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. Though, if you are smart, you know how to opt out of such things," Andrew Larter wrote.

On the other hand, "hopefully it actually syncs across devices since I can never get that function to work on various Android devices running recent Android. I'm not liking swiping on both iOS/Android using Swiftkey and Swype doesn't sync across iOS and Android," commented Jay Viper.

Nothing's for certain yet, though, according to Brian Blau, a research director at Gartner.

"The news is just rumors," he told TechNewsWorld, "so it's hard to know exactly what [Google] are doing."


Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.


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