Google+ redesign foreshadows app platform

Google (s GOOG) rolled out a significant redesign of Google+ Wednesday morning, including new profile pages, a revamped news feed and some tweaks for profile pages. One of the new features with the biggest potential however is a navigation sidebar that can be customized by the end user. Google SVP Vic Gundotra announced the feature this way:

“One of the first things you’ll notice is a new way to get around the stream. Instead of static icons at the top, there’s a dynamic ribbon of applications on the left.”

The key term here seems to be “applications.” The sidebar is essentially an app launcher, and users can use it to get quick access to certain actions available through individual apps. Want to share a photo from your phone? Then simply hover the photos app and select the relevant action. Check out Google’s video below for a closer look:
Apps can also be rearranged in one’s personal order of importance, or completely hidden from plain sight. All of this makes it easier to use the Google+ apps that are available today, including Hangouts, games and photos — but there’s really not that much of a point in constantly reorganizing a half dozen apps. Instead, this seems to be built for something much bigger. Again, Gundotra:

“We’ve also built the ribbon with the future in mind, giving us an obvious (and clutter-free) space for The Next Big Feature, and The Feature After That. So stay tuned.”

Google could of course just use the sidebar as a way to integrate more features on its own. Or it could open up Google+ to developers and use it as a launcher for third-party apps.
Google+ has been open to external developers here and there already. Most notably, developers are able to integrate their own apps into Google+ Hangouts. The search giant has also partnered with third-party game makers like Zynga(s ZNGA) to power its Google+ game platform. The logical next step seems to be to extend these partnerships to other developers and give them the ability to launch apps right from the Google+ launchbar.