Among the highlights of yesterday’s start to Google’s I/O 2018 developer conference was at least one new Android accessibility feature which should prove useful to those who have difficulties with speech or typing. That’s thanks to the determination of and efforts helmed by Tanya Finlayson. Having struggled with communication from a very young age, Finlayson had developed her own way to speak via Morse Code and a switch-based gadget on her mobility device. However, she wasn’t content to stop there. Using her own experiences and a desire to help others, Finlayson sought out Google and helped the company create a new Morse code mode for Gboard. Although there’s no news as to precisely when it will be available for a wider release, the feature is already included in the beta for the Gboard Android app, so the wait shouldn’t be too long at all.
Of course, the new mode works as an on-screen touch keyboard with two oversized keys – a dot and a dash. However, it also works in conjunction with other Accessibility settings so that users can use a hardware switch or other method for typing. Better still, the keyboard still has all of the other Gboard features users have come to expect, including predictive capabilities. The company is also working on an app to train users to type with Morse code and another that uses WaveNet for voice synthesis from Morse code. The new feature also makes sense because accessibility is expected to be a major part of the next iteration of Android.
In the meantime, getting in on the beta itself is straightforward enough. It’s worth noting that there will almost certainly be some bugs that still need to be worked out and things that need to be improved, as is usually the case with experimental services. After navigating to the Gboard app in the Play Store – accessible via the button below – users simply need to scroll down and select the “I’m in” option in the beta signup card. The signup process can take some time but once completed, a tap on the update option will bring the app to the latest beta release. Finally, in Gboard’s settings, under languages, users need to select English (US) and then swipe to the right to find the Morse code option.