According to a report yesterday in The Verge, Google is about to release its own third-party keyboard for the iPhone. The report says that the keyboard will employ swiping/gesture-based typing and predictive text.
Google’s objective is apparently to increase the number of searches coming from iOS devices, the iPhone in particular. With the release of iOS 8, Apple allowed third-party apps to replace its own keyboard.
While there are numerous options today, the two most popular replacement keyboards for the iPhone are Swype and Swiftkey. Swype was acquired by Nuance in 2011, and Swiftkey was just bought this year by Microsoft. Apple doesn’t provide app-install numbers, but Swiftkey, for example, has more than 50 million installs on Android.
This analysis, cited by The Verge, argues that most smartphone users do less than one mobile search per day. However, there are tiers of users, some of whom do a lot of mobile searching, and others who do less. In 2012, I conducted a US-based survey (n=1,500 smartphone owners) and found that nearly half the audience didn’t use Google on their phones, while 14 percent of respondents conducted more than 30 searches per month. If I were to do that survey today, I suspect the number of mobile searchers would be larger.
As has been discussed exhaustively over the past several years, apps have siphoned off search volume and moved Google away from dead center of content discovery on mobile devices. That said, Google famously stated last year that more searches in the US came from mobile devices than PCs. And Google’s mobile revenues have been steadily gaining.
Google has done numerous things to try and put itself back into the center of the user experience on mobile. AMP, app indexing, conversational search, predictive search and other innovations are intended to improve the mobile user experience and draw users into more frequent engagement with Google. Google’s mobile strategy is multi-faceted, and this third-party keyboard should be seen in that larger context.
Court documents also showed that Google paid roughly $1 billion in 2014 to remain the default search engine on the iPhone. Google dominates mobile search by much larger margins than its desktop share vs. rivals Yahoo and Bing. Search itself just doesn’t function in the same way for mobile users as it does on the PC.
I’m skeptical that a branded Google keyboard will add materially to mobile search volumes on the iPhone. But it’s possible.