It might not be the hottest virtual watercooler around, but Google is by no means giving up on its social darling, Google+. Quite the contrary: Google makes the leap onto the biggest iOS screen around with Google+ for iPad. The Google+ 3.0 release is universal across iOS devices, bringing Google+ Events, Hangouts, and embeddable Instant Upload photos to the iPhone version as well.
After downloading the app (available now in the App Store), you'll be prompted to make some choices about Instant Upload, the handy feature in Google+ that uploads your photos automatically so you can share them selectively later. You'll be whisked to a login page, where after entering your Google credentials, you can explore your stream, tweak your profile, cruise your Circles, and anything else you'd be capable of doing on Google+ for the web.
The app looks great on the new iPad's Retina display, which really lets the visual nature of Google+ shine. Photos are rendered at the full height of the app in landscape mode, making for a really visually striking experience if your stream is dotted with photographers. The visual nature of Google+ has always been one of its greatest strengths, especially compared to Facebook, which is still in the relative dark ages when it comes to a handful of photo sharing musts for semi-serious photographers — not to mention its disappointingly poor mobile apps. The experience of browsing a friend's pictures is still superior on Google+, and the iPad app has the feel of a digital magazine app like Flipboard, with large images and shared stories featured prominently.
Still, there are some problems. We noticed a strange jerkiness to scrolling in the app, which manages to detract from the otherwise refined experience of sailing through your stream. Since the iPad boasts the best scrolling on a tablet around, it was disappointing to run into such a basic issue. We also had problems navigating to the sidebar by tapping the upper left corner menu icon, which also detracted from the app's otherwise very elegant presentation.
Scrolling and touch navigation woes aside, Google+ for iPad is really fast and (mostly) really smooth. We hopped in a Hangout in no time, and the video and audio quality was great on our end. Even within an active Hangout, typing in names of friends to add was remarkably fast, with smooth animations that didn't at all distract from the ongoing video chat. We've seen Google+ Hangouts kick a MacBook into that telltale noisy fan-mode in the past, so it was a pleasantly fluid experience on the iPad. Hangouts on the iPad offer a great option for anyone looking to video chat across different kinds of devices. Unlike Facetime, which only supports Apple's ecosystem, you could ring up just about anyone with a Google+ Hangout from your iPad.
All told, the Google+ app's seams show every now and again, but the experience is otherwise so well-executed that the flaws mostly stand out in contrast. If you're a Google+ user, especially one with Circles full of people taking interesting photos, the iPad app will be a great extension of a service that you've already invested in. If you're not sold on Google+, Hangouts offer enough cross-platform utility to give the app a try.