Google+ needs iPhone more than Android

Google has a problem, and it's all about commitment and addiction. The release of Google+ for iPhone v2.0 today has already got Android lovers up in arms, furious at what they see as favoritism for the rival platform. Google should, they argue, prioritize Android users – after all, they're the ones who have already supported the search giant by buying an Android device in the first place. But social networks online – just as is so often the case with their real-world counterparts – can be tricky and treacherous things. The blunt truth is that Google needs to convince Apple users more than it does those of Android.

Let's leave aside for the moment the fact that the Android Google+ app is already pretty solid. In comparisons between it and the previous iOS version, the Android software looked better, performed better and was generally a far more similar experience to what you'd find in your desktop browser. The Google+ iOS app was long-overdue an update.

Timing doesn't explain the whole story, however: for that, you need to look at preloading, addiction and captive audiences. Increasingly, Android device buyers will find themselves presented with Google+ by default: it's part of the suite of software Google certified handsets and tablets will include. That's not the case for iOS, however; if you want Google+ on your iPhone or iPad, you have to download it yourself.

That's a hurdle some rivals don't face. Apple has already integrated one social network, Twitter, into iOS, baking support for the short-message service into the iPhone and iPad back with version 5.0. Admittedly, that's no great headache for Google: after all, Twitter scratches a very different itch to the urges Google+ aims to satisfy.

[aquote]There's a worrying iOS possibility down the line: Facebook[/aquote]

But there's a more worrying possibility down the line: Facebook. Apple was believed to be working with the social network on integration into iOS prior to settling on Twitter, dissuaded only after arguments between the companies saw Facebook fall from favor in Cupertino. According to persistent rumors, however, that frostiness my be nearing a détente of sorts, with whispers that Facebook integration may be one of Apple's big announcements for iOS 6.0.

Should that happen, Google will be at a significant disadvantage. And it can't afford to ignore the iPhone audience, either: they're social-obsessed. According to comScore, Facebook has 80-percent reach among iPhone users, with Android user reach lagging behind at under 69-percent. Other research has indicated iPhone users spend longer on social networks than their Android counterparts.

That's a market obviously eager for a good social experience and, although Google has a vested interest in Android, let's not forget its primary intention with the smartphone and tablet platform: gathering up user data and pointing eyeballs at advertising. An undersaturated iOS userbase does Google+ – and by extension Google as a whole – no favors.

Google can't rely on captive eyeballs for Google+ growth on iOS, it needs to deliver a product that the platform's socially-committed users actively seek out. Anecdotally, at least, v2.0 of the iPhone app looks to be doing that: already we're seeing Google+ users – who "dipped a toe" at the network's launch but then drifted away – returning for a second look thanks to the reworked software. Spurring that initial interest is only half of the battle, however. Google must find a way to persuade users to engage on a consistent basis if it wants to make a success of Google+.