Yesterday afternoon Google put out something of a surprise: a redesigned Google+ app for iOS. Google is notorious for putting out iOS apps that range from mediocre to careless. Late last year Google finally (after over four years of iOS’s existence) put out a native Gmail app for the platform. It’s biggest selling point was Push, except that on launching the application, every single user received an error message (which is generally considered a poor UX), and Push didn’t work. Several months later, Sparrow beat the Gmail team to releasing a quality email app. So when Google launches a new iteration of its Google+ app on iOS before it launches on Android, there’s a lot to say. The most surprising thing: it might be pretty good.
The design of the new app looks stellar. It’s clearly designed to be mobile first, rather than as a mobile access point of a broader experience. There’s no sign of iOS styled navigation (although Apple’s recently ubiquitous gray linen makes an appearance). The navigation seems to be elegantly placed within the interface. Most important here is how it stacks up against Facebook’s app, and it seems like Google+ is taking the lead. Even the profile pages, which seem to be stealing Facebook’s cover image concept, seem better displayed. Facebook’s mobile app frames individual elements separately, whereas in Google+ they are cleanly presented in big font. All of the content is presented large, which is important when you’re staring at a tiny screen - even a nice one. Facebook’s app is thorough, but it’s clearly only a mobile approximation of the greater experience. Google seems to have taken a hint from Path and other hot mobile first social apps and created an experience that thrives on mobile and mobile’s strengths. Here we have a platform rich with data and means of interaction and yet they’re only loosely taken advantage of.
Equally notable is the iOS first launch. Google notes that an Android update is only a few weeks away, but it must be clear even to them that ignoring iOS is a losing strategy. More importantly, app adoption on iOS is far stronger than on Android. If Google wants to increase Google+’s use and user base, dominating on the dominant platform is the right decision. Or maybe even Google finds coding for iOS easier…
It will be interesting to see how apps like Path or even non-social apps like Clear begin to impact mobile design. Users are becoming more familiar and comfortable with the platforms, and sticking to designs with little difference from a meant-for-mobile website simply isn’t engaging. Facebook has on many occasions discussed how they see mobile as the future. A significant portion of their engagement is through mobile, and that will only grow. Focusing on the device your user is always with is the right strategy. Facebook has noted that moving forward, their work on mobile will increase, and that they see it as becoming a far more significant focus of their efforts. Surprisingly, Google seems to have beat them to creating a more engaging mobile experience. One has to wonder if Google’s recent acquisition of the talented Milk team had anything to do with this. For either party, Path might be worth picking up simply for their design efforts. After this, we ought to be due for something interesting coming out of Facebook.