The Verge: Redesigning Google
Excellent story by Dieter Bohn and Ellis Hamburger at The Verge on Google's efforts to find a new design consistency across its apps, services, and platforms. Make sure to watch the video (as usual with The Verge, their video material is top-notch).
The central design metaphor that Duarte and the team eventually landed on was one he’d used before in webOS: cards. The cards in Google Now also show up in Google search, when it displays "Knowledge Graph" results on the web. In both cases, cards seem to represent the information Google gives you directly instead of through a list of blue links. Cards are like a digital equivalent to the traditional architectural concept of marrying form and function — so that the way a thing looks is inseparable from what the thing is. "These are objects," Duarte says, "They feel, not necessarily real, but they feel virtual. They’re not trying to be fake things, not … fake leather, fake wood, fake brushed aluminum."
Right now, I can count three Google apps on my Home screen: Chrome, Gmail, and Google Maps. I've always been a fan of Google's Search app -- the one that was actually well designed and intuitive before Google started redesigning its other apps -- but I keep that on my second screen.
I like the design choices Google made in the past months, but I primarily use Google's new apps for another reason: they work better than Apple's apps for me. It takes seconds for Google Chrome to sync a bookmark or an open tab; I wish I could say the same for Safari and iCloud. Google Maps works better than Apple Maps in my area. The Gmail app isn't perfect, but it makes going through Gmail faster than dealing with Apple's Mail app.
It used to be that if you liked Google's apps more than Apple's ones and if you relied heavily on Google services, then you should have considered switching to Android. But I don't want to switch to Android: I use some Google web services, but I like Apple devices and iOS for everything else. The iOS third-party ecosystem is thriving and a source of continuous inspiration and workflow improvements. iOS is my platform of choice, but Google is behind many of the services that I prefer.
For this reason, I'm glad Google found its design voice on iOS.