(Credit: Screenshots: Download.com/Tom McNamara)

If there's anything Google loves, it's designing a new chat app. By the time Allo came out in May 2016, it faced a crowded field of other such apps from the company's own stable, and it's faced steady headwinds ever since. Now Google is taking Allo's selfie-based emojis and plugging them into Gboard, the company's virtual keyboard app that works in both Android and iOS.

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The most straightforward way to open Gboard is by tapping Android's Google Search widget on your device's home screen. From there, tap the smiley face button next to the space bar, tap the icon that looks like a square piece of paper with another smiley face on it, tap the Mini icon (it should be the tiny square near the bottom with a multi-colored face and an exclamation mark badge), then tap the Create button.

(If you don't see these options in your Gboard interface, don't worry -- you probably just haven't gotten the update yet. It supposed to roll out over the coming weeks.)

Tapping the Create button opens your phone's camera app. Take a selfie, let Google process the image for a few seconds, optionally customize your Mini's look, and Gboard will now show you all the different emoji looks that are based on the one that you've created. Tapping any of them will open Gboard's emoji picker tool, and you'll get two different base versions: "Bold" and "Sweet."

To enable Gboard in Android, open your settings, type manage keyboards into the search box at the top, tap the search result, and tap the slider next to the keyboard you want to use. Depending on what Android phone you have, Gboard may be preselected.

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To enable Gboard in iOS, open the Settings app, drag down to access the search box, tap it, type keyboard, tap the search result labeled "Keyword" with the word "General" underneath, tap Keyboards, tap Gboard, and enable it by tapping the slider labeled "Allow Full Access."

To choose different keyboards in iOS, long-tap the globe icon in the virtual keyboard, then tap Next Keyboard to cycle through your options.

We should note that Gboard isn't always an option in iOS; when you need to enter a password, the operating system will automatically switch to iOS's built-in virtual keyboard, to minimize the chance of your sensitive info getting intercepted by the bad guys.

The takeaways

  1. Google has updated its Gboard virtual keyboard app to include Mini emojis, a feature from the company's Allo chat messenger that's based on your selfies.
  2. On iOS, you won't have access to GBoard when you need to enter a password, for security reasons.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.