We've written before about how Google is working behind-the-scenes to break different Android components out from the core of the operating system. This allows the company to update the OS without needing to wait for its partners to do so. Today, Google continued this adventure by releasing the stock Android software keyboard on Google Play, giving users of devices from Samsung, HTC, LG, and others an easy way to stop using their respective OEM-supplied keyboards. Google's Keyboard is only available in English for now, but other countries will reportedly be added soon.
Google's keyboard offers both gesture-based typing and typing suggestions and was last updated as part of Android 4.2. Now it will be available for all Android phones and tablets running version 4.0 and above. Downloading and launching the Google Keyboard app will walk you through turning on the keyboard and setting it as your default, after which your Android phone will have the same typing experience available on Nexus devices. Switching back to the keyboard that came with your phone (or any other alternative keyboards you may have downloaded) can be done from the device's Settings page.
In an attempt to mollify other third-parties that might be threatened by Google offering its own keyboard in its app store, Google threw them a bone in the announcement post:
Android is an open platform, so you can customize your device to your liking. Choosing your own keyboard is just one example of what’s possible—and there are a lot of great keyboards to choose from on Google Play. (Some of our other favorites are SwiftKey and TouchPal—check them out here: http://goo.gl/Hgj9k)
There are several other "Jelly Bean keyboard" apps available from third parties on Google Play that aim to offer the stock typing experience, but many cost money and all of them require you to allow those third parties access to your input. Most of these offerings explicitly state that they aren't actually collecting data. At least with Google's free first-party option, you'll be sending all of your data to a company that's already gathering it from your Android device anyway.