Gboard — Google’s brilliant strategy to leapfrog Apple, Facebook and iOS messengers

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Google’s new iOS keyboard seeks to own the key mobile use case — messaging.


Last week, Google launched the Gboard to stellar reviews. It’s a 3rd party iOS keyboard that allows for searching and sharing in context on the phone. It’s a brilliant strategy for ensuring that Google is central for information discovery. It has the potential to be more strategic than the default search deals Google has previously struck with iOS Spotlight and Safari. To top it off, after nearly a week of playing with it, I love it.

It’s a strong keyboard and has a slew of delightful features like emoji autocorrect [search pizza], predictive searches [text want to get a drink tonight], and of course the core search and share card metaphors.

Up until now, first class keyboards that have done well on Android have had a hard time replacing the primary keyboard on iOS. It’s not an easy task for users (install keyboard, grant permissions, remove the primary iOS keyboard …) and is likely not a sound strategy for a business. Apple controls the keys to the kingdom. 

We’ve seen success with Emoji, Gif Keyboard, Bitmoji and other media specific keyboards with dedicated use cases. While replacing the primary keyboard on iOS will prove challenging, Google has made a strong effort, stitching together best in class from a number of domains (in some cases partnering as with Riffsy / Gif Keyboard, a Redpoint port co).

Jonathan Libov shrewdly noticed that Apple enable split-screen multitasking on iOS with the inclusion of 3rd party keyboards in iOS8 nearly 2 years ago. If they can achieve sustained engagement and broad distribution for Gboard, or as I suspect bundle the keyboard into the primary search utility app, Google will insert itself above the OS and directly own the mobile user. For that matter, Google will also be on top of iMessage, Whatsapp, Kik, Facebook Messenger …

The killer application on desktop is the browser. Recall that much of Google’s initial distribution was from syndication deals first Yahoo and AOL, later Firefox and Safari. The closest analogy to keyboards is actually browser toolbars. They were 3rd party extensions that provided deeper functionality and experience than the core browser and were instrumental in cementing Google’s distribution and success on the desktop.

The killer application on the phone is communication and more specifically messaging. Google has now inserted itself above social graphs and can facilitate information discovery and sharing. Gboard is a utility that adds value in app contexts.

In attempt to look for second order effects, novel use cases enabled by mobile, I’ve hypothesized about the the killer company to own the mobile equivalent of a user’s home page. The keyboard may be that persistent utility. It’s why we invested in Riffsy, makers of the Gif Keyboard. A mobile first media network is primarily about sharing emotion in context. Enter the Gif Keyboard.

Information discovery may be about sharing in context. Google’s made a strong case for why they can own information discovery here.