- Google updated its smart keyboard app, Gboard, on Monday with new shortcut features to expedite typing on a smartphone. By tapping on certain button and sketching an outline of an emoji, a user will quickly get a list of possible emoticons to use in text messages or chats. As a blog by Google product manager Reena Lee demonstrates, drawing a face with triangular ears will suggest various emojis of cats, a demon and a dancing girl wearing bunny ears.
- Gboard now uses machine learning technology to suggest phrases to help people save time while still writing full sentences. Typing the words “looking forward” will trigger suggestions such as “to seeing” or “to it” to complete the phrase. The feature is now available in English, while other languages will be supported soon.
- The Gboard update includes improvements to running searches directly from the keyboard. Search results appear on interactive cards that can be clicked to see results from Google Maps, watch a YouTube video or call a business.
While Gboard’s drawing recognition feature may be a fun novelty addition to the app, the more useful features are the phrase suggestions and the built-in search function. Phrase suggestions save users time by offering terms that might logically follow the one inputted. This feature is a slight nod to the T9 predictive text technology on nine-key mobile phones that was popularized before the smartphone era. As Google demonstrates in its blog, typing a phrase like “restaurants near me” on the updated Gboard will call up a swipeable list of location-based suggestions that can be instantly dropped into a chat message. That feature saves the time of having to copy and paste a listing from another app in order to share it when making plans with others.
Location-based advertising is a big focus for search and social media companies this year, with Google and Facebook offering location-based digital ads with offline objectives. Advertisers are hungry for detailed data on foot traffic, as 78% of U.S. marketers surveyed by the Mobile Marketing Association in July 2016 said they boosted location-based mobile ad spend based on geographic data. The space's growth is rising alongside trends in consumer behavior, with nearly one-third of all mobile searches related to local products and services.
Although the usefulness of emoji drawing recognition may be limited for now, it is one way that Google is showing off the byproducts of its research and development into machine learning and neural networks — computer programs that simulate the human brain. Last month, Google introduced a feature in its Allo messaging app that transforms selfies into personalized emojis capable of generating 563 quadrillion different facial combinations. After snapping a photo of a face, Allo automatically generates an illustrated version of the smartphone user along with customization options to further personalize the sticker, Google said in a blog post. Machine learning will continue to enhance the way people interact with computers, even if the marketing application isn’t always immediately clear.