Hands-on: Google+ app on the iPhone

After a two-and-a-half-week wait, the Google+ native application has finally arrived on Apple's iOS platform.

(Credit: Apple/CBSi)

The new app, which is a free download, is currently aimed at iPhone users. It joins Google+'s Android application, giving users outside of the browser a way to keep up with happenings on the increasingly popular social network, which is still invitation-only and is operating in what the company is calling a "field trial."

At the launch of Google+, iPhone users had been left with a version optimised for mobile browsers. A note by Google employee Erica Joy earlier this month pointed out that the iOS version had been submitted to Apple for approval.

The native version of Google+ follows similar user interface cues from Facebook's app, featuring a home screen of sorts with different features in finger-friendly locations. This is slightly different from the list of buttons found in the company's mobile web version. Included is the news stream, huddle group text chat and the Circles contact manager.

Google's new Google+ app for iOS.
(Credit: Google/CNET)

One of the key benefits in using the native app is that it serves up push notifications for any updates. So if someone leaves a comment on one of your posts, or you get a message from a group huddle chat, these can be seen without actually having to fire up the app. One other benefit is that the photo viewer includes an uploader, letting users upload shots from their camera or camera roll — something that you can't do through Safari.

There are a handful of things missing from the iOS mobile experience that Google+ regulars may miss. For one, there's no video chat option to make use of the multi-user video hangouts feature, even if you're on an iPhone 4 with dual cameras. Also, the Circles organising is just a big list of contacts, versus the drag-and-drop experience that you'd get on the desktop. This makes organising large groups of contacts more laborious, but is understandable, given the smaller amount of screen real estate.

One of our few quibbles with the app is that your group huddle chats do not show up as a conversation that can be seen by Google+ desktop users. This means that others you've invited to that conversation won't see it and can't respond, unless they're using the iOS or Android Google+ app. Ideally, Google will merge those huddle conversations it in the way that Facebook does with its chat to make everything feel more intertwined.

Last week, Google announced during its quarterly earnings call that Google+ now has more than 10 million users. The service launched at the very end of June.

Update, Tuesday 11 am PT with hands-on impressions: Also, Google+'s lead product manager, Punit Soni, posted an update on the app, saying that Apple was originally serving a version of the application without bug and stability fixes. Soni recommended that users who may have grabbed the app in the first hour and 40 minutes it was up to uninstall it, and then reinstall it to get the newer version.

Update, Tuesday 12:17 pm PT: CNET commenter jfactor05 points out that the app crashes when accessing the stream or profile features on devices running the latest beta of iOS 5. CNET has confirmed this behaviour with an in-house test. Worth noting is that iOS 5 is currently only available as a beta to developers, and will be released to everyone else in spring.


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