Google is now in the process of rolling out yet another change for Google users. This time, the change will impact Google+ users who use any other Google product. Instead of the incredibly ugly black bar that has appeared at the top of Google products for Google+ users since the launch of Google’s new social network, the search behemoth is replacing the bar with a slightly more visually appealing grey bar. Just like in all other redesigned Google products, this new bar is bigger and includes more “white space” — which, in this case, is actually grey space.
The similar changes are designed to be in line with the other changes to Google’s products. In a blog post by Google, the company reflected on the changes it has made and announced that this new bar “will enable you to navigate quickly between our services, as well as share the right stuff with the right people easily on Google+.” The bar still features easy access to your profile and the option to switch accounts, but there is now a drop down menu under the Google logo from which users can find links to their other Google services.
I don’t have the new Google bar yet, but from the screenshots Google has shared, it is obvious the new design takes up far more screen real estate than the previous Google bar. This is on par for the recent redesign of other Google products, including Gmail and Google Reader, which are the two products I use most. The redesigns feature more colors, more white space, and each element is chunkier. Instead of a layout that allows me to consume content in a clean, simple, and compact fashion, these new redesigns make me feel like I’m back in Kindergarten — or perhaps in an Ikea store. While I love finger painting and shopping for cheap furniture just as much as the next girl, when I’m trying to catch up on blog posts and email, bold colors and wasted space are not helping my productivity. Neither are a lack of essential features like labels and scroll bars, which have been removed or hidden in the redesign of both Gmail and Google Reader.
As a result, I’ve been forced to essentially stop using Google’s products in order to continue using Google’s services — including the services that I pay for (I have both a free Gmail account, and we use Google Apps here at LockerGnome). Instead, I use desktop apps on my Mac to read, reply, and/or share the content that is critical for doing my job. Let me just say this is not what I want to do — I like using my Web browser (Chrome) to do most of my work. I primarily toggle between Chrome and Evernote to do 99% of my work and play. Navigating between several apps requires adjusting to a process of using unique apps for individual tasks. Not only do I already use unique apps for tasks like Twitter and instant messaging, but now I also need one for email, RSS, and eventually one for my calendar, too.
Those who like apps on their desktop — and I’m not sure I’m that type of person yet — may find the experience better than even the previous versions of Google products. The new Gmail design has left many confused, as Google has replaced text-based functions with icons and has convoluted the reply process. Users can choose to have limited white space with a compact design, some white space with a cozy design, or a lot of white space. This, also, can be confusing for those who don’t know the option even exists. A good alternative to Gmail (aside from switching email services entirely) is a desktop app, and for Mac, the native Mail.app for Mac is a clean, simple and effective option. Other mail apps, like Sparrow, may not make haters of white space happy, but it does group emails by conversation and presents them in a way that is far more intuitive than Gmail or even other apps.
One thing to note is that almost any desktop app you use to access your Gmail will feature one thing that the new design of Gmail has removed: labels. Users of Gmail may notice that many text-based labels have been replaced with icons. Once you get used to the placement of certain functions, this may not be an issue; however, for those who are trying to navigate quickly through their inbox, the extra few seconds of brainpower it takes to choose an action for every email, every time, can quickly add up and waste time. The upside to these apps is desktop notification of new messages. The downside is, well, the same thing — especially if your reason for ditching Gmail’s product is to be more productive.
The redesign of Google Reader is almost as bad as Gmail, and I’m not alone in saying so. In fact, almost 70% of readers polled on Huffington Post agree they’d rather leave Google Reader than keep the new interface. Though the new design of Google Reader offers the ability to limit the white space as does Gmail, Google Reader is now much more difficult to navigate. Previously, users could tab through blog posts and feeds to preview each without opening. Now, you must first find the scroll bar to pick a feed or blog post of your choice to open them. Also, whatever you do, don’t hit the back arrow in your browser, as you’ll go back to the front page of Google Reader, and not just to your previous feed or folder. Luckily, there are dozens of alternative options from which to choose should you also hate the new Google Reader. I recommend NewsRack for Mac OS X users.
The problem with Google’s products is not that it is making changes and giving the brand a facelift. I like Google’s services and understand that most of what I’m getting is free. (You’ll notice that none of my complaints are about the existence of ads on any of Google’s free services. If you would like to complain about ads on free content or services, you are welcome to start that discussion in the comments.) The problem is that Google seems to be taking a lesson from the school of Facebook and making changes that don’t need to be made by fixing something that wasn’t broken, all the while believing it has a consumer base that won’t ever abandon it.
The problem is, Google is not Facebook. Whereas Facebook users must go through Facebook’s product to use its service, there are other products that allow you to use Google’s services. Those who understand how Google makes money knows this is only bad news for Google — and good news for third party apps. The outrage over these new designs from Google — a service and company that people generally fawn over — begs the question: Is Google making a huge mistake?
Are Google’s new features and designs really a good idea? Does Google really believe its users will adjust, acquiesce, and learn to live with the changes? Or will users abandon the products, even if they keep the service — because unlike Facebook, they can? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.