Here a description how the cocoapods support works.

If your project contains a Podfile the plugins automatically adds cocoapods support to your project. This means that the pod install is executed during the build process. This is only done when the Pods/Manifest.lock does not match the Podfile.lock. Therfor the pod install is only performed when the pods are not up to date.

If you want to force pod install than you can run the gradle with --refresh-dependencies.

Cocoapods is bootstraped if it is not installed. This means that cocoapods is installed for the current user and can be found you gem userdir (see ruby -rubygems -e "puts Gem.user_dir")