Google focused on making its iPhone apps more iOS native

Google applications on iOS have long been criticized for not feeling at home on the platform. Earlier this year, the company’s designers reviewed their approach to developing iOS apps and chose a change.

Google apps on iOS have long been seen and functioned almost identically to their Android counterparts. That in itself is fine and corporate privilege, but Apple enthusiasts have complained that Google applications do not respect common iOS conventions and “feel”, resulting in an inconsistent user experience between first- and third-party clients.

Behind the scenes, this was due to the company’s belief in “shar[ing] UI components across Google. “Building their own libraries was a different focus “to fill gaps in UIKit”, Apple’s framework for building apps.

This is according to the chief technology officer for Google Design on Apple platforms Jeff Verkoeyen in a Twitter thread earlier this week. All of this work was eventually opened as Material Components for iOS (MDC) to allow any third-party developer to use the same UI elements used by Google’s iPhone and iPads apps, e.g. Liquid action buttons (FABs), chips and snack bars.

But as we continued to pursue pixel parity across platforms, our iOS components slowly drifted further and further away from the basic elements of the Apple platform because those foundations also evolved year after year.

In response, Google began in early 2021 “an in-depth evaluation of what it means to build a distinctive Google experience on Apple platforms” and asked:

Should a switch really be built customized in accordance with a generic design system? Or can it be enough just to use the system solution and move on?

Google concluded that it was time for the latter route and that Apple’s UIKit had matured enough for internal needs. The company no longer needed to maintain most of the custom components it expanded over the years, including app (top) bars, lists and menus.

Instead, it will adopt standard controls and apply “light branded goods” to maintain the Google look on iOS. Some custom components are still needed and they will now benefit from “more attention and focus”. It remains to be seen how much (or even if) Google’s iPhone apps will differ from the Android versions.

As part of this shift, Google put Materials iOS Libraries in July “maintenance mode”. New releases and bug fixes will be limited, with documentation no longer updated. The company’s official guide for former developer users is to “follow Apple’s guidelines for human interfaces and consider using modern UIKit components or SwiftUI instead.” That said, it also connected Flutter as the way to “get a material look on all platforms.”

In addition to the feel of apps, Google has been quick to adopt the latest iOS features. This includes widgets for most major services and support to become the default browser or mail client. In fact, the Google Photos widget first debuted on iOS last year before coming to Android in August.

In the meantime, it’s left to see how Material You will affect Google apps on iOS. On Android, Gmail, Calendar, Docs / Sheets / Slides, Drive, Keep and Meet, everyone has been updated to Google’s personal design language. The navigation is unchanged, but there are tweaks to different navigation elements, just as the circular FAB turns into a rounded square. The bigger change, however, is Dynamic Color, where the entire app adopts a color palette based on your wallpaper. DC is unlikely to come to iOS, and updated apps will just end up using a blue tint, as on older versions of Android.

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