Some years ago, people would say that if a company didn’t have a website, it basically didn’t exist. Nowadays you might apply the same logic to apps, especially when you are a new social network from the Mountain View giant that is Google.
That’s not a problem for Google, who not only has its own mobile phone platform, but a shiny new app to go with it. Fittingly, App of the Day is Google+.
- Android Market
Google+ is a brand new shiny social network, currently in beta, under the guise of invitation only, but with growing numbers as people find a way to get in on the action. As soon as you have your Google account setup on Google+, you’re ready to hit the app and bring that magic to your Android phone.
Because it is part of the Google system there is very little messing around to be done. It will recognise your Google account from your phone, so you’ll be up and running in a second.
On installing Google+ you also get Huddle+ appear in the menu, which is essentially a link to the Huddle section of the app, rather than being a separate application per se.
The main Google+ menu offers you the main social sections of G+: Stream, Photos, Circles, Huddle and Profile. These all reflect the content you’ll find in the desktop version of Google+, except Huddle, which we’ll deal with later.
Notifications, which have been prolific in the early days of Google+ as everyone joins, are served up via the notification bar or via a drag-up section at the bottom of the main menu page, similarl to the Facebook app.
Underpinning the whole experience is Circles. Circles are essentially a way of categorising people. The default names are indicative of their use: Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Following (and you can add, delete change these at the desktop end). To build your network, you basically add people to Circles.
On your phone you can add people, the first run of suggestions coming from your Contacts (most likely linked to your Google account), with a wider Public Profile suggestions system letting you find others. These can then be added to Circles.
The content that people in your Circles post fills the Stream. It’s here that you’ll probably go most often, to see what people are talking about. The Stream of the app is side-swipeable, opening up two other areas; Nearby and Incoming.
Incoming is a reflection of the Incoming section of the desktop version, which is content shared by those following you, but who you don’t follow. Nearby, as the name suggests, finds Google+ content near you, in our case serving up stuff for much of the London area, but after the first run, didn’t find any new content in the last 4 days - either it isn’t working properly, or people aren’t sharing their location publicly.
Stream also has three important icons at the top of the page offering location, photo or share/status update. This is basically the content creation edge of things.
The location finds things locally so you can checkin like on Foursquare or Facebook, but we found that locations are few and far between and tended to be businesses rather than things like shops or bars, where we actually wanted to tag ourselves.
Photo and video handling is interesting, because Google+ will offer to automatically upload your photos for you. You also get a range of controls in the settings to govern how this is handled - over Wi-Fi or 3G, with the option to upload photos over 3G and video over Wi-Fi perhaps being the sensible choice. It makes a great way to have your Android phone content backed-up online with minimal hassle.
Before you start getting worried, these photos aren’t automatically shared, they’re private on your account under the section “Photos from your phone”. You can then share those pictures with the rest of Google+ from the desktop. However, it doesn’t just upload new photos, it will upload photos already on your phone in the camera folder, then reflected in the phone Gallery under “Instant Upload”.
Pictures in the Photos sections are broken down into four areas: From your circles; Photos of you; Your albums; From your phone. The link with Picasa means that “your albums” can be sourced here, along with photos from posts you make and your profile pictures.
From the app you can elect to share photos (differentiating it from the automatic uploading), with the option to shoot and share, or select up to 8 pics from your phone to share with the world. The experience is very much like Facebook, although here you can select individuals or circles to share with.
And that’s the real key to Google+: choosing who you share with. You can dump things out there for public consumption or in ever decreasing Circles, until you hit your smallest and most intimate group.
Everything mentioned so far essentially crosses over from desktop to your phone, but there is one final area that doesn’t seem to: Huddle. Huddle is essentially a group messaging or chat aspect of Google+.
It isn’t too far removed from Google Talk and we wouldn’t be surprised if Huddle replaced Google Talk in the future, as essentially you’re working within the same framework. Opening up Huddle gives you the option to start a chat, with invited members, either individuals or circles, which is great for messaging with a group of people.
Perhaps strangely Huddle will let you try and open a chat with anyone in your address book, so the landline number for our local taxi firm and vet was offered up. We found that Huddle wasn’t especially reliable - testing Huddle we found that messages failed to send or took unusually long to appear -something that Skype doesn’t have a problem with.
We also couldn’t find any cross-over from Huddle to the desktop version. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where you want to chat with those at a computer whilst you are mobile, so it seems a strange omission. Skype, at least, doesn’t care where you are: it just delivers your messages.
Finally you have the widget. No self-respecting Android app comes without a widget and here it offers you a quick link to the app, a box to share thoughts, and camera and album links to share images. Elsewhere you’ll see Google+ appearing the Share via options on your phone as most other services offer.
Strangely, we’ve seen contacts added to our phone Contacts list from Google+. We’re not sure what the parameters are, but there don’t seem to be any associated settings to restrict or govern this. We’ve also seen Google Profile pages being added Contacts when they are added to Circles in Google+.
With Google+ still being in beta, there’s a chance that you won’t yet be able to get access. Although some aspects seem a little challenged at the moment (like Huddle) it’s clear that the Google+ app will play a big role on making Google+ truly mobile.
It challenges Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Foursquare combining social features of all apps into one place. In these early days is doesn’t feel as accomplished as those individual networks, but given the size of Google, and given time, Google+ could be the only social network you need to use.
How has your Google+ experience been? Let us know in the comments below.