07
Jun
icon

I'm a huge fan of text expanders. Seriously, they are necessary to me. As a regular user of both Mac and Windows, I have sought out solutions on both platforms and rely on them daily. That's why I've always felt horrified that there weren't any great options on Android. After all, mobile devices are already input-impaired, it only makes sense that we need quality shortcuts. As it turns out, such a shortcut has been under our noses for quite some time, tucked away where few would look and only available with the stock Android 4.1 (or higher) keyboard. But, thanks to the newly minted availability of the Google Keyboard on the Play Store, it's time to call out this great little feature.

Screenshot_2013-06-06-18-02-29Screenshot_2013-06-06-18-02-51Screenshot_2013-06-06-18-18-37m

Here's how to set up text expansions:

  1. Go to Settings -> Language & input -> tap on the settings icon for Google Keyboard. Keep in mind, if your phone has an OEM skin, things might be named differently or a little out of place.
    --OR--
    With the Google Keyboard already open on your screen, long-press the microphone button for the settings icon, then tap on Google Keyboard Settings.
  2. Tap on Personal dictionary
  3. Tap the '+' icon in the top right
  4. Enter a long phrase and your shortcut text. Try using "AndroidPolice.com" and "ap"
  5. If you have multiple languages set up, you may want to change the language dropdown to target all languages.
  6. Hit the back button

That's it! Any time you type the shortcut, the first recommendation will have your expanded text (notice the 3rd screenshot).

Some people may notice that this is nearly identical to the iOS method of text expansion, which also takes advantage of the system-wide user dictionary. Like the Apple method, there are a few shortcomings to this option. To begin with, this is text expansion in its simplest form; there are no variables, smart dates, or neat tricks we're accustomed to in desktop alternatives like AutoHotKey. Further, you won't have automatic cross-device sync, which means setting up shortcuts on every device you own. Finally, the feature doesn't extend beyond the Google Keyboard, so you won't be able to pull this off with other popular keyboards, like SwiftKey. If you find yourself typing the same long names or phrases, but regular prediction isn't quite cutting it for you, give text expansion a try.

Thanks go to Kyle for spotting this one.

Cody Toombs
Cody is a Software Engineer and Writer with a mildly overwhelming obsession with smartphones and the mobile world. If he’s been pulled away from the computer for any length of time, you might find him talking about cocktails and movies, sometimes resulting in the consumption of both.

  • Gloria Tortorella

    I didn't know about this D: thanks!

  • Sam Nalty

    This has been available for quite a while :)

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      It's 4.1+, as the article states. We decided to publish this in light of the recent release of the keyboard to the Play Store as a reminder/tip/heads-up. I bet most people have no idea it exists.

      • Carlos Rodríguez

        I had a Galaxy Nexus last year and a Nexus 4 right now and I had no idea we coud do that. Thanks AP!

      • http://www.ScienceProUSA.com SciencePro

        Likewise, had no idea...will definitely set it up now. Hopefully Titanium is able to back this up when I need to reflash, etc.

      • Gregory Dillon

        Can you confirm this is only available in 4.1+, but not for the Google Keyboard installed on a less than 4.1?. The website that lead me here has text that suggest this will work as long as its the Google Keyboard, and I'm not finding that to be true.

  • PhineasJW

    Cool! Thanks.

  • Zak Taccardi

    it's a shame you can't swype the apostrophe key or indicate that you want to do two of the same letters in a row, or it would be bye-bye swype

    • Abhijeet Mishra

      Seriously. I love Swype for being able to swipe words real-life, third-party, etc, something neither stock nor SwiftKey seem to be able to do, also being able to swipe smileys and stuff like . or ? or !, and the copy paste shortcuts via the Swipe key. But this auto-expansion feature is awesome, too bad it isn't on Swype. :/

    • Christopher Lee

      I don't know about the apostrophe, but I remember Swpye informing me to draw a loop or squiggle over a character I wanted to double-input.

    • ithehappy

      Bye bye Swype? Yeah, in a decade maybe.
      Can't believe one could even compare a much slower and non accurate keyboard with something like Swype! Lord!

  • Hans Pedersen

    That is pretty nice, I've often wondered why no one would bring this from the desktop world. It's something perfect for touch.

  • http://george.merloc.co George Merlocco

    You should be able to use Titanium Backup to backup the User Dictionary and restore it after a wipe/device change...that is, if you're rooted.

    • Matt

      In my experience, the user dictionary is automatically synced with Google Backup & Restore settings, so you don't even need Titanium Backup (even though I do end up using TiBu later for other apps). Not sure if this continues with the keyboard now in the Play Store.

    • Kaushal
  • Abhijeet Mishra

    That's where I love Swype. It doesn't have auto-expansion, which is an awesome feature, but it learns things like my email address so I can swipe it out, even have Androidpolice, AndroidPIT etc saved. But yeah, nice to see stock keyboard has expansion settings!

    • Nasko Hristov

      Psst, google please buy swype.

      • Dan DeMarco

        Google's own version of swype is better than Swype.

        • Nasko Hristov

          For english yes, but swype stops there. If I wait for my language, I will get old seriously, it even't doesnt have dictionary.

          • PhilNelwyn

            So, to be sure I've understood your comment, you say that Swype only has English and doesn't have a personal dictionary, right?

          • Nasko Hristov

            Not only english, I checked it has more languages but not that many.

          • PhilNelwyn

            Are you really talking about Swype Keyboard from Nuance Communications?

          • Nasko Hristov

            Yes, I am talking about Google Keyboard, Swype is just awsome.

        • Abhijeet Mishra

          not in my experience. The best thing about Swype is that it's built around the feature, swipe isn't added on like other keyboards, reason why I can't use them as default. :/

        • anzensepp1987

          Swype is the perfect symbiosis of swyping and gestures. With the newest update also the language switch got a huge improvement. Swype kills everything for me since it is available through Play.

          • Quest

            Google Keyboard is also available thru play now

          • anzensepp1987

            That's not new to me - I read AP everyday. I just meant that the unavailability of Swype on Play was for me a reason to use it not as my primary input-method.

          • Fadakar

            And I can swipe out my favorite fucking curse words!

          • fsckoff

            You do realize that in the advanced settings menu for Google keyboard you can uncheck "block offensive words" and get your shits and fucks back, right?

        • Justin Winker

          I agree with you on that. I also like that I can use multi-touch to swype. Makes typing so much quicker.

        • celestre

          Weird! I tried switching from Swype to Google's keyboard, and I had to switch back because the swiping was so bad on Google's. The predictions of what I swiped were just all over the place, not nearly as good for me.

          • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=iWizard Bikram Agarwal

            Kind of agree with you. I try to use as much stock as possible. If some stock app gets my work done, I don't flirt with 3rd party app just for a few gimmicky features. But swype's prediction is spot on, 99% of times, while Google's isn't. So, I bought Swype.

          • Cerberus_tm

            Lets hope Google will follow your example.

          • Dan DeMarco

            Also weird! Lol. I'm glad that we have choices.

        • Chris

          because its "google" or because it is?

          • Dan DeMarco

            as Justin Winker says below, multitouch works much better with Google in my experience as I'm not always in a situation to use swipe.

        • Jean-Pascal Casagrande

          Hum, not to switch between language. Google/Apple keyboards are horrendous for that. Swype, start in english stays english. start in other language like french, stays in french. How many times have I wrote a whole text or email in a language for the autocorrect to mess it up completely until swype!
          Just never happens anymore with swype. Way to go for bilingual users! for now...

      • SmileysAllAround

        Swype was purchased by Motorola Mobility, which was, in turn, purchased by Google. Google owns the IP for Swype. And that is how they've incorporated gesture typing without pulling new patents or licensing another's technology.

    • Josh Shaw

      Google Keyboard learned my email, and my Twitter handle

  • Nasko Hristov

    Is there a way to import whole dictoniary, I don't understand Google, huge company with time and money to add more dictionaries and still we have a Chines provincial language, but not Bulgarian, or Romanian???

    • Kaushal

      This app might help: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.usr.dict.mgr&hl=en

      I have been using this to backup my custom dictionaries from time to time; really useful when changing ROMs. Though, I don't think it backs up the text expansion stuff.

      • Nasko Hristov

        Nice, but no Bulgarian.

        • Kaushal

          Yes, but it works well with transliteration. My language is Gujarati and its dictionary also doesn't exist. I have my custom dictionary with frequently used Gujarati words with their sounds typed in English; example "chhe" and "chho" are Gujarati transliterated words.

          • Nasko Hristov

            I don't have the nervs to add words one by one. Maybe there is way, to downlaod one ready but this is still a hard work, which I for now will leave. :D Thanks.

          • Kaushal

            Google's your friend buddy "bulgarian transliteration word list" http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Bulgarian_Swadesh_list

          • Nasko Hristov

            I didn't get that. Can u explain, thanks?

          • Kaushal

            Well, you can copy the 200 something words from the bǎlgarski column into a text file (you copy paste the whole table, paste in Excel and then its easy to copy just that one column to a plain text file) and import using the User Dictionary app. Of course those words won't be enough for day to day communication but that they should be a good foundation to building your own list.

      • Marcell Lévai

        Wow I didn't know about this. Thank you very much! And for the transliteration word list trick too ;)

    • Chris

      because no one really cares for foreign countries.

  • Kaushal

    The AOSP keyboard did it too. I have been using that feature for a while now to expand my email addresses and usernames when logging into something from phone.

  • makapav

    My personal dictionary items have been traveling between my Nexus 7 and Nexus 4 - both stock so I am not sure why yours is not.

    Edit: In fact, I have wiped and moved across Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 devices and my words have automatically appeared on all of them.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      Hmm, interesting. My personal dictionary restores to a single device after hard resets, but never synced across devices. This will remain one of my biggest gripes about the old backup mechanism, it is so incredibly inconsistent.

      • makapav

        I am now curious. What device do you use? And is it root or stock?

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

          Well, it's a moderately long list of what I have in use, but the primary devices are the N4, N7, and HTC One. Both of the Nexus devices saw heavy use of the Google Keyboard until SwiftKey Flow launched. All of the other devices (tablets and phones) have had either CM 10.1 or another AOSP-based rom, and I always run setup with the option to backup and restore data. I've checked every device, and the only one that has any saved words in the dictionary is the Nexus 4. Most of the saved words are from before my last flash.

  • Mr E

    good to know. i use swiftkey for similar functionality -- usually i'll type the first couple letters of the first word of a commonly-used phrase, and then just tap-to-insert the rest

  • Paul_Werner

    Yep, been using this for some time now. Love it for my long email address

  • wicjets

    thanks for the info

  • David J

    Lol I've been doing this for awhile now...

  • vivek

    No of characters to be saved is limited ............well it is certainly good thing as text expander but its limited in scope as i was trying to add my address but i believe no of characters is limited (may be 50-70 didnt count), so only half the address was getting saved ...thats a bummer otherwise i wud have jumped from swype , i hope swype brings this in its next update

  • vivek

    Its good only for emails n all not ,if u wanna add ur addresses also as the No of characters to be saved is limited ............well it is certainly good thing as text expander but its limited in scope as i was trying to add my address but i believe no of characters is limited (may be 50-70 didnt count), so only half the address was getting saved ...thats a bummer otherwise i wud have seriously thought to move from swiftkey , i hope swiftkey brings this in its next update. swiftkey keep FTW

  • Michael Pahl

    As a two year Swype user - can I import my dictionary from Swype???

  • Chris

    So you need to go in to settings when more well known and well established keyboards like Swiftkey has it from the get go with none of this silly setting changes?

    Step it up Google.

    • Mike

      I don't know of any text expansion in SwiftKey. Can you explain how to do this?

  • Tyler

    While we are talking about features people probably don't know about slide up on a suggestion with 3 dots underneath it and you'll find a surplus of suggestions.

  • digi_owl

    Just miss arrow keys and easily accessible numbers...

  • http://twitter.com/sivkai Siv

    Sorry for the n00b question (a recent escapee from iOS) but is there any need to install this on AOSP devices? I own a Nexus 4 and was curious as to whether this keyboard offers anything new.

    • Joshua Hill

      This should be the default keyboard on Nexus devices.

  • Black Sideburns

    You can't add spaces in your phrase...

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  • Could be Anyone

    I don't seem to have this problem with SwiftKey since it been in or king great since I got it. Still I'm looking forwards to minuum since it is the only keyboard that seems to be pretty goodfor both phones aand tablets.

  • Joseph Cascio

    Can't use the @ symbol. That's bullshizz. Guess I'm sticking with Thumb Keyboard and its amazing pinned text feature. Emails are a pain to write out.

    • z0phi3l

      You must be doing something wrong, I just set one up for my email and the @ symbol took just fine

      • Joseph Cascio

        I'm positive I'm not doing anything wrong. I think it's because of an OEM skin (LG's). The save button gets greyed out as soon as I hit the @ key. And yes I am updated from the market.

      • artsr2002

        The @ symbol shortcut wouldn't work for me either. I'm on a AOSP ROM on my S3.

  • Dan MacDuff

    It's been on Kii keyboard for a while now.

  • John Entwistle

    This tip also works for the Skype keyboard - my weapon of choice, but without read this I would still be unaware, Thanks :)

  • mpicard

    thank you for this post, I'm huge fan on text expansion myself. The + symbol doesn't appear on my cell phone (though 4.1.2). Any idea how to fix that please ?

  • WileyHeyoka

    My droid is 4.1.2 and does not support this function. I'm clearly baffled.

  • robertmarkbram

    How about things like expanding timestamps etc? iOS has the amazing TextExpander that allows for this. The disadvantage is that it only works with apps that have in-build support for TextExpander. Luckily there are a few. I am getting an Android phone soon.. I want this ability! :)

  • YASH

    HEY! I HAVE SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB 2 ,,AND ANDROID VERSION IS 4.1.1 ...
    CAN U SUGGEST A KEYBOARD BY WHICH I CAN STORE LOTS OF SHORTCUTS...
    LIKE OMW AND OL THAT ,,,,
    P.S: GOOGLE KEYBOARD ISNT COMPATIBLE ,, SO SUGGEST ANOTHER KEYBOAR

  • Klaus

    If you are using a hardware keyboard with your android the Blueduino app is also an option. It provides expansion capabilities and customizable abbreviations, what's great about it is that it shows multiple available options of replacements in the corner of the screen.