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Google Apps on iOS and Android [Opinion]

Google Apps on iOS

In the past few months it has become abundantly clear that Google intends to support three platforms: the web, Android, and iOS. Google’s support for the web and Android should not come as a surprise; Google has always been a web company and Google bought Android to fight Microsoft in the mobile space. Even Google’s support of iOS is not all that surprising since the iPhone was essentially the Google phone before the G1. What is surprising, however, is that Google isn’t just making apps for iOS; they’re making really good apps for iOS.

Google has more than enough apps in the App Store to fill a whole page on an iOS device (23 total). While some of these apps are garbage and others are merely remnants of failed Google projects, Google has come out swinging lately with seven apps in particular: Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, Chrome, and Google+. All of these apps are available on both iOS and Android in near identical implementations (the only real difference between the Android and iOS versions of these apps is that pull to refresh is available on the iOS iterations while the Android apps still rely on a refresh button) save Gmail and Maps.

Maps for iOS

Google’s Gmail and Maps Android apps tend to focus on utility over appearance while the iOS apps tend to hide functionality, thereby presenting a cleaner user interface. While Google Maps for iOS looks and feels inspired by the Android app, the cleaner interface is far more inviting to use. While the iOS app emphasizes search and location, the Android app emphasizes utility in general.

Doing things like a search or finding your location are easy to do on both apps, but something like adjusting layers is far less obvious on the iOS app. In fact, settings are essentially hidden on the iOS app. In the iOS app Google chose to hide traffic, public transit, and a link to Google Earth (which is a rather strange inclusion) behind an Android style menu button. The implication here is that iOS users expect a clean interface while Android users expect a heavy amount of mapping tools available as soon as the app launches.

Gmail is probably the most surprising iOS app from Google. The iOS app again brandishes a cleaner UI while the Android app emphasizes utility at the expense of beauty. In fact, with its white expanses and red highlights, the iOS app is actually more faithful to the design of Gmail in a browser than the Android app.

Have a Nice Day

Both apps have multi-user support, swipe to archive, label support, mute, and neither app can create a label (still!). In every screen the iOS app hides settings and options behind buttons while the Android app shoves them in front of users. Because of these UI decisions, the Android app places a very, very heavy learning curve on users in terms of learning the Gmail app’s unique iconography while the iOS app labels everything except for archive and trash. As a result, the iOS app has a much cleaner, if less immediately useful user interface.

In my testing, I actually found Gmail, Maps, Google+ and Chrome for iOS to be more of a pleasure to use than their Android counterparts, which is a strange thing to say. Usually companies put their best work on their own apps for their own platform (see Hotmail for Android), but Google’s apps are actually in parity with the Android versions or better on iOS. Between pull to refresh, the use of playful, colorful loading animations, and the simpler UI, Google apps on iOS tended to be more responsive and easier to use. If you want to live in Google’s ecosystem Android is no longer a requirement.

While I understand why Google would want to make good apps for iOS, I don’t understand why they would make better designed apps for iOS. Maybe Google believes that Android users want UI controls exposed and iOS users want them hidden or that Android users don’t mind cluttered UIs as much as iOS users. Those are just guesses; if I were Google I would want to make sure that the Android apps performed just as well and included little touches like pull to refresh and loading animations. That kind of attention to detail can make a tremendous difference in how an app works and feels. No matter what the reason is for the discrepency, it is nice to see some really nice design coming from Mountain View. Hopefully we see Google bring some of that finess and focus to their Android apps.

  • EK Sumon

    Android apps as well as IOS apps has its own demand. One thing everyone should remember that android apps are made for android and IOS apps are made for IOS. Google store has a huge collection for their own operating system. Besides they are making apps for IOS also. This is their well Initiative I think. You should welcome this. I can not understand why are we controverting about this great Initiatives ?
    You are saying that android apps has a complex interface but IOS apps are simplified. I can not understand what is problem here? You like a simplified interface? Owk fine, use an apple product. And if you don’t like, use android. Simple.
    Differences between IOS and android apps has offered us to choose one. If android and IOS apps would same to look at or use, then we would have not any chance to choose.
    Many man many mind! Google has its own market policy. May be they has researched that android users like an interface with all the option in its interface. So they made it according to user’s demand.
    Google is making apps for IOS. It is a good news. So we all should welcome this. That’s all!

  • Ashley Moat

    I have used both Android and iPhone. I love how Android works but for me with a mobile device I want simple and easy to use. Unfortunately in my opinion iPhone is the phone that does it for me. The UI of apps are exactly how I think mobile apps should be. On Android, they become complicated. I prefer to do more complicated activities on my computer.

    With Google designing apps for IOS. I see no issue with this at all. Google has always been about providing their services across platforms and I think this will always be their number 1 business aim. The fact IOS app looks better (opinion again) I think is due to how easy it is to develop for IOS over Android. I have no issues with both OS but for me a phone should be simple, you ring, you text, you communicate, you play. Anything else, grab you laptop :P

    • ratnok

      “The fact IOS app looks better (opinion again) I think is due to how easy it is to develop for IOS over Android.”

      It has nothing to do with ease of development. It has everything to do with how most developers are not using the HOLO design guidelines. The Android Development Team has a whole series of YouTube videos to encourage folks to approach design the Android way. Unfortunately, few are taking them up on their advice, but the ones who do, make absolutely beautiful apps- far more attractive than the “stitched leather” garbage you see on iOS.

      The difference in design of the above apps is definitely a mistake by Google. The assumption that Android users are more “techie” and therefore are ok with more seemingly complicated apps just reinforces stereotypes that iPhone users are superficial, stupid and lazy, and Android users are geeky control freaks.

  • Dain Laguna

    Great Article ron. Personally, i dont get why folks think that because something is simple it loses utility. Ics simplified android quite a bit, but id hardly argue gingerbread was more Functional

  • socalrailroader

    They need to stop being afraid of WIndows Phone 8, and stop this blocking crap. I mean, why else would they do this? They are obviously trying to prevent a competing OS, one they see as a contender from being able to grow and prosper, doing the same thing Apple has been doing to them.