Google+ Gets A Facelift

Our friends at Web.AppStorm covered the relatively recent changes that Google made to the Google+ web interface. As has become standard for changes made to major social services (I’m looking at you, Facebook users), there was a boisterous fanfare of praises and curses alike (mostly curses). I personally enjoyed the changes that Google made to the interface, but that’s neither here nor there.

Somewhat more quietly however, Google also updated the Google+ iPhone app. The changes are obviously intended to parallel the recent changes to the web interface, but does the style and grace of the web interface translate effectively to the iPhone screen? Let’s find out.

Images, Images, Images

One of the most obvious changes of the Google+ redesign is the way that profile images are displayed. Some might say it was a response to Facebook’s “Cover Photo” included with the Timeline redesign, but the inclusion of a banner image in addition to your profile image shifted the design to a more photo-centric experience. Let’s start with the Stream.

It is quite honestly an assault of images.

It is quite honestly an assault of images.

I’ve always thought that the G+ experience was best described as a hybrid between those of Facebook and Twitter. As such, the Stream is the most integral part of the service. The screenshot above shows the Stream, which I believe to be the most explicit example of visual chaos present in the redesign. The way that Google has chosen to illustrate each post includes a profile icon, a banner image and the image for the actual post: three different images, with three different sizes and three different resolutions. Coupled with a lack of visual separation between each post and the next, this hideous amalgamation of design makes the visual absorption of the app require far more work than I would’ve expected from Google.

What really saddens me about these design choices is that they seem to defy the reason why the web as a whole continues to go to Google.com.

Google minimalism is arguably the crux of it's usability.

Google minimalism is arguably the crux of it's usability.

And perhaps the most frustrating thing is that the rest of the user interface in the updated version of the G+ iPhone app is spectacular. The navigation elements are great (more on that later) and even the display of information that doesn’t include images is more in-line with the minimal design of which we’ve become so fond.

Minimal is King

The way my profile image is displayed is still a bit wonky, but the design of this menu should've been echoed throughout the app.

The way my profile image is displayed is still a bit wonky, but the design of this menu should've been echoed throughout the app.

Images aside, the rest of the Google+ UI is honey-dipped in gorgeousness. Many apps have abandoned the traditional horizontal drilling into and out of menus that once plagued the iPhone interface and have instead opted to use more peripheral “curtain style” menus, and Google+ is no different.

The "curtain" style menu.

The "curtain" style menu.

The dark colored theme of the menus, in my opinion, really have the opportunity to make the actual content of the app really pop — an opportunity missed by poorly constructed content-display screens.

While the display of already-existing information is tedious and unpleasant (a sentiment that I cannot stress enough), the content-creation is much more efficient and enjoyable to use.

The post composition screen is one of the best designed aspects of the app.

The post composition screen is one of the best designed aspects of the app.

All from the same screen, you can enter text for a post, choose the circles that will see it, attach a location and upload photos (from your camera or your photo library). The text field also has autofill support for your “+mentions,” and will display a list of the people in your circles after you type the first letter of their name, to make mentions quicker.

And finally, the support for Hangouts is surprisingly well implemented. From the Messenger, you can create a new conversation. When adding people to your conversation, you can either load up a select group of friends, or start a more public Hangout by selecting specific circles from the Circles list. Then, simply tap the Hangout button in the corner and get started!

My makeup artist called off today.

My makeup artist called off today.

Conclusion

Functionally, the new version of the G+ app is great. It gives me access to all of the information I want, and has all of the features I have come to expect from Google’s still fledgeling (comparatively) social network. The design, however, is in my opinion one of the biggest mistakes that Google has made in recent memory. Call me a glutton for punishment, but it’s not so bad that I won’t continue to use the app. Because, as I said, it gives me the information I want. Still, the design is bad enough to make me say “but … why?” each and every time I launch it.

There’s a certain sleekness and a streamlined experience that I expect from Google+ (the very reasons I prefer G+ to Facebook, in fact), and the design decisions behind this application seem counterintuitive to that. I do hope Google plans to rethink these decisions in the somewhat near future.


Summary

Google's redesign of their old G+ app mostly misses the mark on visual style, but still manages to incorporate much needed features such as Hangouts.

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