Google+ For iPhone: Google Finally Gets A Sense Of Style

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Despite the perennial concerns over privacy and security, Google's services remain pretty popular. Google can generally be counted on to make services that are easy to use and that make our lives easier. Even iPhone users tend to rely pretty heavily on Google's services - Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, etc. Unfortunately for Google, though, there is one thing they are definitely not known for: pretty apps. Their iPhone apps tend to be perfectly functional, doing pretty much anything users could want them to do, but they're distinctly lacking in aesthetics.

Take the Google Voice app as an example. I use this app with some regularity, and in terms of features, it's everything I could want it to be. In terms of aesthetics, it leaves a fair bit to be desired. It's not that it's an ugly app, per se. But it's hardly pretty, either. It's really just okay. The same can be said for most of Google's other iOS apps. Most of them, with the exceptions of Google Search and Gmail, are pretty plain: not ugly, but not great, either.

Up until a few days ago, the same could have been said for the official Google+ app, too. It had pretty much everything you could want in terms of features, but the aesthetic left a lot to be desired. Thanks to Google's latest update to the app, though, that has changed. The feature set on the new Google+ iPhone app, which was released last week, remains basically unchanged from the previous version. The user interface, however, has gotten a major overhaul. While it might be an overstatement to say that Google finally grew a sense of style, it wouldn't be much of one.

The first and biggest change you'll notice is in your streams. Entries are now sized in such a way that they display one at a time, and no more. No matter how short the post, you can only ever fit one entry on your iPhone screen. The most you'll ever see of the next or previous post is just small section of the top or bottom (respectively). The goal, Google says, is to make your stream experience more immersive, and to help you give your undivided attention to one post a time. While this is great for the posts that you want to pay attention to without being distracted, it's a real hindrance to skimming your stream and skipping the stuff that may not strike your fancy just now:

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As you scroll down your stream, the next entry appears to "drop" into place with a neat little animation that I was not able to get a decent screenshot of, unfortunately. The sole purpose of this feature is aesthetics. It increases the immersive feel of the stream, and is a generally pleasant effect.

The other aspect of the stream that got a makeover is the circle selection process. Now there's no swiping back and forth between streams, and no need to select wich circles get the swipe treatment. Now there's a dropdown menu at the top that you tap to bring down a list of all your circles. Simply tap the one you want, and off you go:

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The status update screen is mostly unchanged, except for one thing: now there's no separate button for Foursquare/Facebook-style checkins. That's all handled from the same status update screen:

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One final screen got the major makeover treatment, and that's the main menu screen, where you can access your own profile, photos, circles, and the messenger service. Gone is the plain white background and the grid of icons. Now you'll see a sleek black list. And instead of having your profile picture in miniature inside the profile icon, now it's blown up and spread, banner-like, across the top. Which is great, unless being stared at by your own eyes is creepy:

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All in all, the new Google+ for iPhone update is pretty slick. While it's not perfect (personally, I wouldn't mind a slightly less immersive stream), it's definitely a step in the right direction, aesthetically. Here's a video Google posted that shows the new app in action:

In an ironic twist, the new Google+ app is currently only available for iPhone. The Android version is still a few weeks out. There is still no word of when - or if - Google will decide to share the Google+ love with the iPad.