At the Google I/O conference on May 8, Google revealed a new feature that adds a Morse code keyboard to Gboard so that people who cannot talk, type, or swipe normally will still have a way to communicate in the digital age. While it's mainly an accessibility feature for those who actually need it, it's a good way for anyone to learn or brush up on their Morse code skills.
Right now, Morse code in Gboard is only available for the US English language, but it's supported on devices running Android 5.o and later. Unfortunately, iPhone users won't get to join in on the action, at least not right now. Maybe it will come to a future Gboard for iOS update, but for now, this is Android only.
The new Morse code capabilities are not found in Gboard by default. Since it's still considered a "beta" feature, you'll have to join the Gboard beta first in order to unlock this feature on your Android device. To do so, just visit Gboard on Google Play, scroll to the bottom of the page, then tap "I'm In" in the Become a beta tester box. Tap "Join" on the popup to confirm.
It may take a few minutes for it to complete the signup process. Afterward, you'll want to scroll back up to the top and tap "Update" to get the beta installed.
You can uninstall the beta version at any time by hitting "Leave" in the You're a beta tester box at the bottom of its Google Play page, then hitting "Leave" again on the confirmation prompt (so that you won't be promoted to install the beta again). Afterward, hit "Uninstall" to remove the beta version from your device.
On your Android device, open up the device Settings menu. Then, tap "System," followed by "Languages & input." Next up, tap "Virtual keyboard," then select "Gboard" from the list.
After that, tap "Languages," followed by "English (US)." This will bring you to a row of options you can swipe through to add different keyboard types to Gboard.
Swipe all the way to the far right on the row, then tap on "Morse code." More settings will appear for Morse code underneath it, and you can set things to your liking right away or just tap "Done" to finish installing the new Morse code keyboard. We'll discuss all of its settings later on in this article.
When you go back to Gboard — wherever it is that you use Gboard, be it a messenger, note-taking app, email app, etc. — tap on the globe icon to switch to the Morse code keyboard. You can also tap-and-hold on the globe or space bar to bring up the keyboard selector screen, then tap the "Morse code" keyboard to select it.
If you already know how to use Morse code, then you can begin typing away using the dot (.) and dash (-) keys to spell out words. Just tap on each button with your finger, then use the spacebar to input spaces. For those of you not familiar with Morse code but would like to learn, hit up the next step.
If you're already using an accessibility service on your Android phone, such as TalkBack, Switch Access, or Select to Speak, this Morse keyboard will work with all of them. For those using Switch Access, you'll need to configure your external switch so that the dot and dash characters will be assigned to the right keys.
If you're someone who has a hard time speaking or using small keys on the regular keyboard, then it's likely that you already know how to use Morse code. For those of you who want to learn how long-distance communications use to work way back in the day of the telegraph, need to learn to better communicate with those who use it daily, or just want to send an "SOS" message for fun, Google has you covered.
Just visit that link above on your Android device, then tap on the screen to start. You can also tap on the ? to read more about this tool, which was created by developer Tania Finlayson who has cerebral palsy and cannot speak — someone who used Morse code as a way to speak to others without the need of a large word board and head-mounted wanted.
Once you tap on the screen to get started, you'll see how the "Morse Typing Trainer for Board" works. Once you tap "Get Started" or "Skip," you'll start learning how to type out Morse code using pictographs that help associate the code to each letter, number, or symbol.
If you want to make any adjustments to how the Morse code keyboard works, you can tap-and-hold on either the globe icon or space bar in Gboard, then select "Language settings," and tap on "Morse code." You can also get there using the instructions from Step 2 above.
There are many things you can adjust in these settings. First, if you tap the toggle on for "Sound on keypress," you'll hear sound feedback whenever you tap on a dash or dot. If you're new to Morse code, this is a great way to learn how to interpret Morse code tones into words in your head. You can also tap on "Volume on keypress" to adjust how loud the tones are.
As for the other options, there's a "Character timeout," which controls how long Gboard will wait before it turns a sequence of dots and dashes into a letter, number, or symbol. It's set to 1 second by default, but you can change it to anything in between 250 milliseconds and "Never."
If you're proficient with Morse code, a short time would be better, but if you're just learning, feel free to up it a bit to take in account all your learning pauses. If you set it to "Never," you'll have to hit the space bar or tap the Morse code word to turn the sequence into a character.
By default, "Word timeout" is not turned on (it's set to "Never"), but if you decide to enable it, you can select between 250 milliseconds and "5 seconds." With a timeout set, Gboard will wait that long before it turns a series of letters into a word, followed by an automatic space. If you're not fast at typing Morse code out, you may want to keep this turned off or you'll end up with half words all over the place.
Note: With word timeout, Gboard autocorrects, suggests, and predicts words as usual. For example, if you enter "nam" and Gboard suggests "name," then the word "name" goes to the text field after the word timeout (as if you entered "nam" and then space bar).
By default, "Enable key repeat" is toggled on, and what this does is let you hold down the dot or dash key to repeat the keystroke instead of tapping multiple times. It's automatically set to "Start repeating after" one second, and the "Repeat rate" is set to 200 milliseconds, but you can adjust each of these numbers or turn the feature off completely.
If you want to learn more about this new More code keyboard, head to its Experiments with Google page. You'll see information about Tania, as well as a PDF that you can download and print out of the pictographs that are shown in the trainer in Step 5 above.
Developer Tania Finlayson found her voice through Morse code. Now she's partnering with Google to bring Morse code to Gboard, so others can try it for accessible communication.
Morse code for Gboard includes settings that allow users to customize the keyboard to their unique usage needs. It works in tandem with Android Accessibility features like Switch Access and Point Scan.
This provides access to Gboard's AI driven predictions and suggestions, as well as an entry point to AI-powered products, like the Google Assistant.
Overall, I think this is a pretty amazing project. In just a few minutes, I was able to start dotting and dashing words out like a pro, something I always thought was too complicated to even try. Hopefully, this jumps out of beta soon and into Gboard for everyone, which will just add on to all the cool things Gboard can do.