The science fiction reality
Google+ for tablets: app of the day
What is it?
An all-new tablet app for the Google+ social network, building on the impressive redesign of the smartphone version to make use of the larger screens.
That design. It's a beautiful, elegant app that places an emphasis on images with its slick swipe'n'tap interface.
It's been just over a year since Google launched its Google+ social network, and it still attracts a lot of scepticism. Not so much for its features - it's out-innovating Facebook in a number of areas - as for its popularity.
Google says that more than 170m people have "upgraded to Google+", which means they've enabled it in their Google accounts. That doesn't mean they're using it though: for many people, Google+ still feels very quiet compared to the buzz of activity they see in their Facebook and Twitter streams.
This, in a nutshell, is the strength and weakness of the Google+ apps, which came out for smartphones last year, was updated to a spiffing new design in May 2012, and has now been released in a native version for iPad and Android tablets.
The strength: the tablet app is just as elegant as the Google+ website, based around a vertically-scrolling feed of photos, videos, links and status updates. You can pinch and zoom in to focus on individual updates, and drag them to a box at the top-right of the screen to share them on - a neat user-interface touch.
You can filter updates by your Circles - the different groups you've assigned your contacts to - or additionally by location ("Nearby") and popularity ("What's Hot").
The second key feature is the inclusion of Hangout, Google+'s group video-chat service. It's an impressive rival to Apple's FaceTime, complete with its ability to support more than two people at once, and its shifting camera view depending on who's talking. It's perfect for the larger tablet screen.
Also good is the Find People screen, which suggests people you might know, and lets you search for others - in either case, adding them to one or more Circles. It's quick and easy, and might be the best way to populate your Google+ network - an hour or two on the sofa while watching TV should do the trick.
The weakness? The Google+ app is only as good as that network. If you're not following many people - or if they're not using the social network - it will feel like a wasteland. A beautifully-designed easy-to-use wasteland, but still a wasteland.
On the other hand, if you're part of a large, active network, this is great - simpler and faster than Facebook's iPad app, even if it's lacking features like apps integration.
Still, this is a chicken and egg problem for Google: it makes sense to start by making its Google+ app as good as possible, in order to give people another reason to start using the social network.
Whether you're defecting from Facebook or simply knuckling down to using Google+ as a second (or third, or fourth...) social network, its tablet app is highly impressive.