Google+ should help, not hinder Apple’s social efforts

Google+ (s goog) has some features that may seem familiar to owners of Apple’s iOS (s aapl) devices. Huddle, for example, provides group messaging, kind of like iMessage. Instant Upload on Google+ lets you automatically post photos to the web, while with Photo Stream, pictures you take on one of your iOS devices are automatically available to others. Hangouts provides video chat, kind of like FaceTime. But while the Google+ offerings have things in common with planned or existing iOS features, they have key differences that make them complementary to, not competitive with, Apple’s mobile plans.

Huddle is Google’s mobile group chat service, and probably stands the chance of being the most similar to what Apple’s got on offer with its upcoming iMessage. But it’s designed around a very different type of messaging. You can organize contacts into groups and automatically message across those groups with a simple tap in Huddle, but it resides within Google Plus, and isn’t integrated with your device’s text messaging app. iMessage will serve as a communication tool for impromptu conversations with one or more people, and all the functions people normally accomplish through text and MMS. Huddle looks like it will appeal more to work teams and other more formally organized groups, and will work for the kind of event planning people do with groups of friends on Facebook right now.

Instant Upload and Photo Stream actually have very little in common, and make clear the different guiding principles behind Google’s new product and Apple’s offerings. Instant Upload is for sharing with a wide audience; Photo Stream is for keeping your media organized on devices either you or your close family owns. It’s the same with FaceTime and Hangouts: One is about one-on-one communication between relatively close contacts, while the other is about casting a wider net for a totally different kind of interaction. These could butt heads down the road if FaceTime implements group chat, but even so, FaceTime will likely be used in different contexts, like for catching up with mom and grandma at the same time, where Hangouts could be used for book club meeting, for example.

Google has said there’s an iOS app in the works for Google+, and even the current HTML5, web-based, front end looks great (as it should, thanks to former Apple interface designer Andy Hertzfeld) and works really well on iOS devices, according to my colleague Mathew Ingram. It’s clear Google wants to reach out to as many as possible with Google+, and Apple should bend over backwards to make that happen, because as the name implies, this new social product does nothing but add to the social appeal of iOS and the iPhone.