Google’s Gboard is already one of the best and smartest ways to communicate on a phone, given its direct link to Google search and all the company’s artificial intelligence-powered predictive and natural language capabilities. Now, with an update rolling out to the Android version of the app today, Gboard is getting even smarter. Google’s keyboard now recognizes hand-drawn emoji and will now predict full phrases instead of just the next possible word. The changes are expected to come to the iOS version at a later date.
This is all the work of Google’s ongoing AI research, which at a high level helps improve the company’s software by churning through mounds of data and learning over time using training techniques like deep learning and reinforcement learning. Thanks to tools like Quick, Draw!, a web game that guessed what you doodled on screen even when it was terribly drawn, Google has been able to make sizable advances in the image recognition department. This manifests itself in actual consumer products when Gboard is able to observe your crude drawing of a cat and suggest an accurate emoji to replace it.
The company’s AI research also helps improve Gboard’s natural language understanding. That way, when you type a phrase like “looking forward,” Google understands the context and will now suggest “to it” or “to seeing.” Past versions of Gboard were only capable of suggesting possible next words using predictive engines, so this is a subtle but powerful step up.
Alongside those enhancements, Google says Gboard’s search function will now show more results and also more easily link out to other apps like Google Maps and YouTube when appropriate. Google is also adding support for more languages — you’ll now get suggestions and swipable gesture typing for Azerbaijani (Iran), Dhivehi, French (Belgium), Hawaiian, Maori, and Samoan. Brand-new languages being added with the update include Dzongkha, Ewe, Navajo, Tsonga, and K'iche', though you’ll only be able to type in those languages and not use any of the more powerful AI-assisted features.