Google Apps – Why Are They Different On Android And iOS?

One of the best things about Google’s ecosystem is the fact that it exists regardless of what platform you use. Whether you are on Windows, Android, OSX, and even iOS, you have at least some way of using Google’s applications. While they may not integrate as closely as they do in Google’s own operating systems, Android and Chrome OS, they do still give you all the functionality you would expect from Google’s products. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t different. These apps look different, act different, and sometimes even have different functions on each platform. Why is that?

For an example, let’s look at the Google Hangouts application on both Android and iOS. Each performs most of the same functions, but they differ greatly. The first section we will look at is the design of both apps, followed by the features and functionality.


So let’s take a look at the design of the Hangouts app of both platforms and how they similar, and how they differ. On both platforms we see a list of conversations. Inside conversations we see our messages, the status of the person (if they are looking at the conversation, if they are typing, etc), the options to start a video call, attach a photo, and of course an options menu for further settings. Even though the same elements appear in both, they look very different. For instance, the Android app uses square profile photos while the iOS app uses circular photos. The Android app also uses a sliding menu to access conversations while the iOS app uses a more traditional back button. The appearances don’t stop there either, but why do they look so different?

There’s a couple reasons why these two apps look different. The first is the design guidelines of the platform. Since these guidelines are seen not only in the proprietary apps on each platform, but also third party apps, Google has to stick with them so that users don’t get confused. On Android, design guidelines typically follow the path of a slide out menu to access further functionality or information. However on iOS, guidelines pull for a back button in the top left corner allowing users to go back to their previous screen. In the case of Hangouts, the sliding menu on Android is used to view you conversations while on iOS, you use the back button. But that isn’t the only thing influences design guidelines. It’s also affected by what the user wants and what is competing on the platform. Since on Android, Hangouts is pre-installed, there isn’t too much valid competition. On iOS however, Google is grabbing the bull by it’s horns so to speak since it’s competing with apps like iMessage. This requires them to custom build the design of their app to be better. Since each app is built by a completely different team, personal preference also plays a large factor.

Features & Functionality

Hangouts itself has a pretty simple goal, to provide an easy to use messaging service integrated with your Google account. If they stopped there they would still have a great service, but Google is nothing if not ambitious. They don’t want their messaging service to just be good, they want it to be great. So what’s a better way to do that then by adding new features and functionality?

Each platform has the same core features such as photo attachments and video calling, but each one has it’s own set of features that are, for now, exclusive to their platforms. For instance, on Android, we see the ability to use the app for SMS messages similar to iMessage on iOS. On the other hand, Hangouts on iOS includes VoIP calls through Google Voice. So why are features like that exclusive? The answer is quite simple actually. It’s a matter of priority and ability.

To determine priority, Google simply looks at what their users are asking for. If a certain number of people are asking for one feature, and a certain number are asking for another feature, the majority is going to win and that will decide which feature is given the highest priority. Another factor is the team’s ability to integrate the feature into the app. Let’s look back at the example of SMS on Android and VoIP on iOS. SMS integration was a feature that many Android users were asking for, and a high priority for the team behind that app. Since it’s Android, it’s not too hard to integrate SMS into the app for a couple reasons. First of all Android is much more open than iOS and second Google makes Android. So there’s that.

So while the Android hangouts team had their work going into bringing SMS into the Hangouts app, the iOS team had to pick something else to work on. Obviously that feature isn’t really possible on iOS so instead that team started working on VoIP. While that feature is definitely coming to Android, it wasn’t as high a priority at the time.No matter how much the apps differ, they still do what we want, even if they do it at different times.

This doesn’t just apply to Hangouts either. This applies to Google’s apps across the board. They all look different and perform different on each platform. So next time “the other side” gets an update and you don’t, that doesn’t mean you can complain right away, there are actually reasons behind it.