Though it took a few years to get there, Apple with iOS 8 finally introduced support for third-party keyboards, thereby allowing iPhone and iPad users to install and enjoy custom keyboards for the very first time. Looking to get in on the action, The Verge reports that Google has been busy developing its own third-party keyboard for iOS.

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Though there’s no release date just yet, the report relays that Google has been testing the device internally for months now. And not surprisingly, the company is aiming to position ‘search’ as a central part of the keyboard experience. The underlying goal? Increase the number of Google searches coming from iOS devices.

Like its Android counterpart, the Google keyboard for iOS employs gesture-based typing, so you can slide your finger from one letter to the next and let Google guess your intended word. Tap the Google logo and you can access traditional web search. It also appears to have distinct buttons for pictures and GIF searches, both presumably powered by Google image search. The keyboard is visually distinct from the standard Android keyboard, which incorporates voice search but no text or image-based searching.

As anyone who has used Facebook Messenger can attest, quick and easy access to GIFs and photos is remarkably addicting and fun. While it remains to be seen how functional, efficient and fast Google’s keyboard app is, the upcoming keyboard app certainly sounds intriguing.

The report further adds that Google is particularly interested in mobile search on iOS because smartphone users on the whole don’t do as much web searching as their desktop counterparts. And with mobile ads commanding higher rates than desktop ads, it stands to reason that Google views increasing the number of web searches emanating from iOS devices as a strategic priority.

Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Siri has also eaten into Google search volume. Indeed, Google chairman Eric Schmidt once called virtual assistants like Siri a strategic threat to Google’s core business. While Siri undoubtedly has its flaws, it still performs remarkably well for basic queries that users previously had to rely upon Google to answer. Today, an iPhone user looking for, say, nearby sandwich shops is much more likely to either use Siri or a third-party app like AroundMe to see what his or her food options are.

To date, third party keyboards are beloved by many users, but there’s no denying that such apps remain a particularly niche category within the App Store. That said, the cache of Google’s brand will undoubtedly bolster the app’s visibility and perhaps popularity once it becomes available for download.

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