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A quick look at the Google+ Android app

by Marty Gabel

Is there room for yet another social network? Google seems to think so. In the past couple weeks, those fortunate enough to be invited to Google+ are getting an early look at a new spin on social networking. And there are big mobile-specific implications.

Android users can begin by downloading a dedicated smartphone app available for those invited to Google+. An iOS one is currently going through Apple’s approval process apparently, but today we’ll take a look at the good and bad about Google’s Android app.

It’s worth noting straight off the bat that Google+ is still in its infancy and will be expected to develop and (potentially) flourish as more users sign-up and begin to use it. The app and its related website are still experiencing teething problems. Remember that we are all, in effect, beta testers for Google’s master plan to take over the world of social networking. That doesn’t sound too sinister, does it?

Running around in circles

On the positive side of things, the app pretty much mirrors the experience on the web site, but with a few major differences. One of the cool, often-touted advantages of Google+ is the ability to put friends into “Circles”. That way, you can separate work colleagues from family friends, or acquaintances from the people closest to you. You can also see either a full stream of everyone in all your Circles, or simply choose to view just updates from specific circles. You get to choose who goes in your Circles and how you build them. It really is a nice feature. The app, however, only lets you view a single stream of everyone in your Circles, so hopefully with future updates, this functionality will be improved so you can be more selective like on the website.

One unique feature of the Google+ Android app is the ability to use your location and see who’s been updating their stream nearby (providing they’ve chosen to post that publicly). There may be some value to this when you’re mobile, but all I see is a bunch of folks I don’t know who just happen to be using Google+ close to my home or office. Now, if they stretch this to show where my real friends are locally, that might be of use. But the status updates of random strangers don’t really appeal to me.

The app also allows you to start “Huddles,” just like on the website. Huddles are like group chats between particular circles of friends. The app lets you tweak your Circles too, though the interface is a little less intuitive than the web site. At the same time, however, many have already complained that Circles can be tough to manage on Google+, especially if you want to delete or move people around. I also noticed an issue where I couldn't click on people's links within the app signified by +Name (e.g. +Marty Gabel), which seems a bit counter-intuitive.

Smile, please!

The photo sharing abilities of the Google+ app are probably its most interesting feature. Within the settings, users can decide to upload every image they shoot with their Android device directly to Google+ instantly. But don’t worry -- they don’t magically appear in your public stream, or we could all be in a whole heap of trouble. They go to a private folder, and users can choose whether they want to share them with Circles or make them public to all. This instant upload feature is seamless and perhaps a little quicker than uploading and then posting images to Facebook and Twitter. And of course it’s crucial that the user still has to decide what becomes public!

The bigger picture

There’s a lot more to said about the good and bad of Google+, and there’s plenty of commentary out there already about the service itself and what it offers. I wanted to at least take a look at the Android-specific app. Though it’s lacking a bit of the functionality of its mother website, it’s a pretty good start and a nice way to keep up on Google+ while out and about.

Whether Google+ will be a success is anyone’s guess. People are hunting for an alternative to Facebook, what with its issues with privacy, clutter, and other far more entertaining reasons.

Google+ certainly streamlines the social networking experience drastically, giving you far greater control over what you see and what you want to share. Can it succeed or even make an imprint in a social world dominated by the hugely popular Facebook? Only time will tell. There’s still more work to be done making Google+ more intuitive (with photo sharing, search, shortcuts, etc.) and getting used to things being a little, well, different from other social sharing services. But so far it’s getting a tentative +1 in my book.