Few things make as big of a difference in your smartphone experience as your on-screen keyboard. For most of us, typing is a significant part of what we do on our devices -- and having an exceptional keyboard can go a long way in making the act easy and efficient.
And you know what else? The keyboard that seemed best for you a couple months ago might not be the best choice for you today.
Sounds crazy, I know -- but things evolve fast here in the land o' mobile tech. And this is a perfect example.
This week, Google's own "stock" Google Keyboard app is in the midst of getting a major update. I've been using the new version for a few days now, and it's good -- like, really good. So good that I'd strongly recommend giving it a serious shot, even if you've tried Google Keyboard in the past and haven't been blown away.
The new version of the app, first spotted by the gang at Android Police, catapults Google's default keyboard from being a decent minimalist option into being a stellar all-around tool for almost every style of on-screen typing. The keyboard has gained a bunch of useful features and improvements, including a one-handed typing mode (in which you can shift the entire keyboard to the left or right of your screen to make it easier to control with a single hand), more direct access to symbols and characters, and some new controls for customizing the keyboard's height and appearance.
The app's swipe-based typing is easier to use now, too, thanks to a change in the way suggested words are shown during that type of input. And speaking of gestures, this latest Google Keyboard version has some new ones: You can slide toward the left from the delete key to erase entire words and slide left or right on the space bar to control the on-screen cursor (something that may sound silly but -- trust me -- can come in incredibly handy when you're trying to get to a specific point within text).
Beyond that, Google Keyboard now provides quick access to a standard number pad -- something the app had long been lacking. And the keyboard's word suggestions are easier to adjust with this latest update, as you can manually remove suggested words simply by long-pressing them and dragging them out of the top-of-keyboard bar.
Factor in the hidden Google Keyboard shortcuts I wrote about earlier this year -- not to mention the easy-to-add ability to use handwriting as an integrated input option -- and you've really got the framework here for an outstanding and almost fully featured typing experience. Most important, it works equally well with tap-based typing, gesture-centric input, prediction-reliant input, or any combination of those. Since I started using this latest version of the app, I've been moving effortlessly between those different styles -- often within the span of a single sentence -- and typing faster and with fewer errors than ever before.
Practical considerations aside, there's some interesting context to this set of advancements: Google has a history of making its own apps fairly basic and bare-bones at first -- having them serve as decent default options for users who don't need much or don't know about third-party alternatives -- and then slowly improving and expanding them to the point where they become more broadly viable and maybe even all-around leaders in their class. That's precisely the path Google Keyboard appears to be taking, and with this latest update, its climb from "decent" to "dynamic" is picking up steam fast.
The one major limitation that remains is the keyboard's lack of a split-screen option for more tablet-friendly typing. That's an area where third-party keyboards excel and Google Keyboard has still yet to catch up. But at the rate the app is evolving, I wouldn't be surprised if something like that shows up before long.
Regardless, this is one update you'll definitely want to watch for and try out when you can. All signs suggest it's rolling out slowly, in typical Google fashion -- but if you're feeling impatient, you can always try manually grabbing the update from a trustworthy third-party source.
Don't let inertia guide your mobile tech decisions. The choice and competition that come with an open mobile ecosystem only benefit you if you yourself remain open to the possibility of change. That's the beauty of mobile software: There's always something new and interesting on the horizon. You've just gotta be willing to check it out and see if it makes sense for you.
Tap, tap, tap. Swipe. Good day.