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Google Gboard Hands-on: Our New Favorite iOS Keyboard

Google's made a play to own your iOS typing with Gboard, a new virtual keyboard that includes built-in Google search as well as emoji, .gif and photo search engines. Available today (May 12), Gboard is not only a powerful search tool, but gives the search engine giant another way to scan your activity while trying to stay relevant in a world increasingly dominated by apps.

After installing the keyboard, tap the G icon to open up the search field, which offers suggestions from your search history. Tapping a search result pastes the site's title and google-shortened URL into the message field and places the Google Card (a preview photo for the page) in your device's clipboard.

Once you've made your search, you can change your results from web pages to images or GIFs by clicking on the photo or GIF buttons. Tapping one of those results will copy the art to your clipboard, so you can paste it into the message field.

MORE: 12 Best iOS Apps You're Not Using (But Should Be)

My favorite part of the keyboard isn't search, but its emoji suggestion feature, which you activate by tapping on the Smiley emoji icon. This let me search through emoji by typing, and when I searched for "party," Gboard offered the red balloon, the dancing lady and the festive ticker-tape shooting party popper as options.

Gboard also comes with Glide typing enabled. Similar to the popular Swype-keyboard method, this lets you move you finger around a keyboard to input words, which one-handed typists may find useful. Personally, I was happy I could disable this, as my fingers have never gotten accustomed to swipe-typing.

Gboard isn't a complete replacement for iOS's default keyboard, as it doesn't include a dictation feature, so you can't use speech-to-type from either Apple or Google. Don't blame Google, though, as Apple doesn't allow any third-party keyboards access to the microphone.

Gboard is a particularly clever move from Google, as it could keep the company's search engine active on mobile as users turn away from their smartphone's default web browser in favor of apps. You also never know when Apple might change iOS's default search engine — or when Google might stop paying for the privilege.

In terms of privacy, clicking on Gboard's terms of service (TOS) button reveals it doesn't have any unique rules, though it echoes Google's current overall rules for customer data. So expect the search giant to be skimming everything you search and share with the keyboard, all in the name of serving you better ads everywhere else, though Gboard didn't show me any advertisements during my testing.