New Google+ for iPhone Is a Slick Wonder (Still Needed: a Decent Google+ for iPad)

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Google+ for iOS
Harry McCracken /

Keeping up with Google+ is — for me — a never-ending roller-coaster ride. At first, I loved Google’s social network. Then it slipped out of my list of daily must-visit sites, in part because the quality of the conversation seemed to plummet. Then I wanted to get back into it, but found it less than satisfactory on my main computer, the iPad. Then I got irritated with the way in which Google seemed to be turning many of its other services into promotioonal vehicles for Google+.

And now I’m interested in Google+ once more, based on the strength of its all-new iPhone app.

In the blog post announcing the update, Google+ honcho Vic Gundotra calls it “a feast for the eyes,” which sounds like wanton hype. It’s not. The app is beautifully polished, with subtle animations and an extremely responsive touch interface that makes browsing through Google+ updates and photos addictive in a way it’s never been in the full-blown browser version of the service. And it’s got a look that’s distinctively its own. I’ve never seen anything like it from Google or anyone else.

Building an ambitious and elegant Google+ for the iPhone is a smart move on Google’s part, in part because its arch-nemisis, Facebook, has an iPhone app that just isn’t very exciting. (I also find it so slow that I have an almost-subconscious tendency to avoid using it.) If you’ve got an iPhone and love Google+, I suspect you’ll love this app; if you’ve got an iPhone and have never been smitten with Google+, the app might make you a believer.

But I’m still frustrated by Google+. The new app is an iPhone app — there’s no version tailored for the iPad. And Google+, as it appears in the iPad’s Safari browser, is often literally unusable, at least for me. I just tried to post a laudatory update about the iPhone app from my iPad, but Google+ wouldn’t let me publish my update until I’d selected one or more Circles — and wouldn’t show me the list of Circles so I could select any.

As the new iPhone app shows, Google is capable of writing iOS software that’s at least as good as anything it creates for Android. (It even rolled out the iPhone update first — it says the Android version will be along in the coming weeks.) With the iPad, however, its efforts often seem half-baked. The official Gmail for the iPad, for instance, is a major disappointment which doesn’t even support multiple accounts. And Google+ is such a mess that it leaves me thinking that nobody who’s responsible for the service is an iPad user.

Of course, it’s possible that Google is hard at work on a new Google+ for the iPad that isn’t quite ready yet. I want to love the service all over again — but I can’t until it’s a joy to use on the device I use the most.