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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Could Google+ give Android a needed boost?

While I was on a rare family vacation all last week, two things happened: I won nearly enough money in Vegas to procure my next smartphone and Google rolled out it’s best social effort yet with Google+. You’d think these two random events were unrelated, but actually, they’re tied together. After using the beta of iOS 5 on my iPod touch, I’m sufficiently impressed to consider a new Apple handset over another Android addition. However, Google+ may shut down the momentum of my migration back to an iPhone, and in the bigger picture, could boost Android overall at a time when sales are starting to peak by some measures.

Since I’ve been offline for nearly 10 days, I haven’t used Google+ all that much yet, but I like what I see so far. And based on the commentary around the web, others do as well. Google seems to have learned from its failed Wave and Buzz efforts, plus it has taken an innovative approach to managing privacy in a social network. The Circles feature is intuitive and lets me easily post or keep up with certain groups of my choosing. Huddle, the group chat client, shows promise in my limited usage as well, although Stacey’s not a fan.

I can easily envision Google+ becoming fully integrated with the Android platform, providing native access to contact information such as phone numbers or email addresses, along with the social status, check-in locations and photos from my friends. Essentially, thanks to Google Profiles, Google+ could be a contact database with full social networking integration, along with various communication methods: chat, messaging, and voice. While there’s an iOS version of Google+ awaiting approval from Apple and also an HTML5 web-based version of the client, it’s this type of deep integration that could make Android more appealing if Google+ becomes a success.

It’s certainly possible that such far-reaching integration may never happen, but some current Google+ functionality is unlikely to ever be available for other platforms, which is typical of many key Google apps. Think of Gmail, which offers a better experience on Android handsets thanks to a native app. Google Music doesn’t exist for other mobile platforms outside of a clunky web version, and the free Google Navigation service is an Android exclusive, too.

We won’t know what functionality is missing from the iOS version of Google+ until the app is approved, but it’s likely that the Instant Upload feature won’t be there. This function uploads photos taken from an Android device’s native camera app in the background to a private album: Snap a picture and it’s safely on the web for storage or later sharing in Google+. Google is offering unlimited storage on Picasa with Instant Upload, which sweetens the pot even more.

Instant Upload alone isn’t enough to cause an iOS owner to switch to Android, of course, especially since iOS 5 brings Photo Stream, a similar (albeit more limited) feature. But it’s an example of how the Google+ experience will likely be best on an Android device. And that type of better experience can sway some to the Android camp.

I’m still impressed with what I see in the iOS 5 beta, but I’ll be waiting to see what the Google+ client for iOS can and can’t do before I decide what my next phone will be. It’s not the sole determining factor by any means – I’m still holding out hope for a larger iPhone display, for example — but based on how promising this new Google service looks, it’s definitely part of my decision process.


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