Google’s ongoing initiative to divorce applications and core services from Android releases has borne many fruits in recent months. Google Play Services continues to bring new features to older (pre- Ice Cream Sandwich) devices, as does Hangouts and the Google Play Store. An especially major move this past June was the migration of the stock Android keyboard to the app store, which served the dual purpose of (1) providing an AOSP keyboard solution for those stuck with third-party bloat, and (2) establishing a mechanism for updating a major part of Android without the need for OTAs. Though the initial listing offered few (if any) enhancements over the pre-installed keyboard, today’s release makes clearer benefits of Google’s larger strategy.
Though the additions and fixes aren’t many, they’re welcome as always. The requisite bugs have been squashed, of course, and stability improved. Previously a feature restricted to phones, the top row of letters can be long-pressed to quickly access numbers. In addition, external dictionary packs can now be loaded (the official changelog doesn’t mention this), and the keyboard layout has been tuned to better support unspecified languages
Perhaps more exciting is the promise of improved functionality in future releases. Android Police uncovered code that points to a number of features in testing, including space-aware gestures. (Android Police compares it to SwiftKey’s Flow Through Space.) Unfortunately, the feature is restricted to Googlers for now, but don’t be surprised to see it resurface soon. Rest assured, this isn’t Reader – don’t expect the folks at Mountain View to abandon Android keyboard users any time soon.