Google+ gets new iPhone app, Android next

Google (s GOOG) released a new version of its Google+ iPhone app today, and it represents a big step for the social service on iOS. The existing app was more or less a wrapper around the Google+ mobile experience, but the update replaces this with a much more visual approach. Google SVP of Engineering Vic Gundotra announced the changes on Google’s blog:

“We’re not interested in a mobile or social experience that’s just smaller. We’re embracing the sensor-rich smartphone (with its touchable screen and high-density display), and transforming Google+ into something more intimate, and more expressive.”

Key parts of this new experience include photo and video sharing. Take a look at some of the changes below:

iOS has been a bit of an afterthought for Google+, with new features generally launching on Android first. However, with this update, Google decided to innovate on the iPhone and then take some of those new features to its own mobile platform. Gundotra said on Google+ that a similar update to the Google+ Android app will be rolled out “in the next few weeks,” and he teased that the Android app would include “a few additional surprises.”

Google+ still doesn’t have a native iPad app, and a Google spokesperson told me Wednesday that the company has “nothing to announce at this time for the iPad.”

The update of the iPhone app isn’t just a big step for Google+ on iOS, it also hints at where Google is going with its social network. The company recently rolled out a revamped Web app for Google+, which features a much simpler layout and also includes a better presentation of photos.

That could point to Google viewing photos and other kinds of media sharing as a key part of the Google+ experience, which the company has in the past described as two sides of a coin: One part is Google+ the social layer, which enables users to personalize search and add functionality to Google services like GMail and Google Drive. The second part is Google+, the social network, which is more directly competing with Facebook. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Google views media and especially photos as a key asset in this competition.