Back in April last year, when Android 11 was still in its beta, a new set of default dark and light themes was found hidden deep inside the Gboard app’s version 9.3 APK file.
These themes brought about an updated color scheme with shadows being done away in favor of a more modern-looking minimalist aesthetic. This was combined with a new slick-looking Google Sans font.
Anyway, these changes were speculated to be a little treat to be rolled out with Android 11 stable. But the Android 11 stable was released almost six months later on September 8 2020 without their slightest hint.
Fast forward to December the same year, and Google began rolling out the new themes to select users on the beta version of the Gboard. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.
But following this little rollout, the changes were reverted to much disappointment of users. After all, this wasn’t even the first time such a rollback has occurred.
Google has now been A/B testing the new themes for several months and the poor things have been bobbing in and out of existence continually for some of the beta users.
But what’s worse is that a user has absolutely no control over the matter since the new themes aren’t exactly tied to a specific Gboard APK version. This means that they can’t be accessed simply by installing the latest available Gboard beta.
Rather, the themes have been buried deep inside the Gboard APK since the day they were first spotted, and are enabled or disabled through a server-side switch at Google’s end.
Now, the themes can in fact still be manually enabled by editing some XML files in the data folder of Gboard. But that isn’t really an option for most considering that it calls for root access.
Because of all this, many users are fed up with the way the new themes are constantly coming and going, which is pretty understandable given that changes like these take time to get used to. Some have even moved on to the more ‘stable’ experience of Swiftkey Keyboard.
Now, one can argue that beta users had already signed up for all of this. After all, beta software is bound to be unstable. However, one cannot simply overlook the ridiculously long period of time Google is taking to roll out just a couple of themes.
All this raises several questions. Has Google scrapped the new themes entirely? Highly unlikely since Gboard does desperately needs a revamp to match a more modern than ever looking Android.
Or are the themes still being tested all this time? Now, this is much more plausible. It is possible that the new themes are a part of something bigger, and Google may be planning to roll it all out as one big update rather than piece by piece.
Moreover, as many may already be aware, Android 12 is now in the works. The update is slated to bring forward an extended theming system with the ability to even recolor apps.
The potential of this is boundless. If it indeed does make it to the final release of Android 12, a benchmark would be expected from Google to act as a catalyst for all other OEMs to follow.
Thus, Google should get to work, if not already, on making their own set of apps compatible with the new theming system on Android 12. These include the likes of Google Contacts, Calendar, and of course, Gboard.
From this, it is not unsafe to say that the hold-up on the new Gboard themes could have something to do with the app’s support for the new theming system. Hence, the themes may be delayed until a stable Android 12 is released later this year.
Of course, this is only speculation at this point and is something that no one wishes to happen. We are all counting on Google to roll out their stuff before the Android 12 release. For now, stay tuned to our dedicated Android 12 update tracker.
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