Google has created a stir recently by changing a lot of their services’ interfaces to coincide with the announcement and private beta release of their Google+ social networking service. So today we’re sharing our opinions of the changes that Google has made, considering so many use their services, and giving our thoughts on what could be improved.
First up is the big one: the most used search engine in the world. Google has changed the interface here greatly by introducing a new, less colourful colour scheme around the Search interface. Link colours remain largely unchanged; however the sidebar has received a nice shade of black with red/orange highlights to go with. The search bar has received a grey backing and the overall top bar has been changed from white to black.
We’ve heard complaints that the black top bar is too contrasting with the rest of the largely white interface. Yes, the black bar is definitely contrasting with the rest of the interface, but we’re inclined to say that could be a good thing. Having a largely single-contrast (white) interface is bland, and by adding the black bar and grey highlights to the top it serves as a more sophisticated and professional looking baseline to the rest of Google’s services and your own Google profile. Twitter did the same thing with the black top bar and it too worked well.
The top grey section with the Google logo and search area seems to be a common theme among the rest of the interface changes, as you’ll notice later. The search button has been separated and coloured which gives interest and, along with the new minimal icon set, makes the new look feel more modern. The results list has been spaced more, and while the immediate reaction may be that you need to scroll more, in actual practice this seems not to be the case as you usually refine your search rather than scrolling or going to the next page
The new Gmail theme is not enabled by default, you actually have to change your theme; we recommend the use of the Dense theme as it saves space. Again, the issue of scrolling seems apparent with the new Gmail theme, as generally interface items are more spaced (especially lists). You fit fewer items on the screen and it appears as though buttons are optimized for touchscreen rather than a keyboard and mouse.
Is this a bad thing? Yes and no. The new interface with its upgraded colour scheme, contrasting red/orange in the sidebar with blue for search and links, looks fantastic and is a much needed refresh. However, the larger interface in general takes up more vertical space than necessary instead of expanding out into the large horizontal area that most modern widescreen monitors have. There are benefits to having larger buttons such as making them more obvious and easier to hit, but we can’t help feeling that the buttons are perhaps just a bit too big.
Despite this, we’re probably going to prefer the new theme. It looks great and fits in with the rest of the new set of Google themes, and seems to finally put together all the little updates Google has been making to Gmail in the one unified interface. The interface has also been squared off a lot more than in the previous theme, which seems to conform to changes we first saw with the Android Gingerbread update. The scrolling/vertical space issue we can likely overcome with more use of the search bar, and also more use in general.
There have also been some changes to Calendar. Again, we’re seeing the overall theme change, the squaring off of interface items and a generally more modern and refreshed feel to the service. The improved interface in Calendar looks great and there really are no outstanding issues to speak of, only a few minor things that have yet to be updated, like when you click on an event for a preview and you get the dated looking rounded bubble and when you quick create an event you also get the dated bubble.
Again, there is not much to see here with the update to the Maps interface except for what we have already mentioned. The interface feels more modern and refreshed, and Google has added the handy feature of My Places, which lists all places you have saved and rated for easy re-access in case you feel like visiting the same place again. There have been no changes to the actual maps part of Google Maps, so it’ll feel familiar in that respect.
While the features across Google’s services have essentially stayed exactly the same, the new interfaces are extremely nice to use, more sophisticated, more modern, more professional, and ultimately look better as well. Good work, Google. It was about time that they received an update. There are some kinks where Google has decided to take up more space than necessary with their upgraded interface items (we’re looking at you, Gmail), but after some using by us and some tweaking by Google we believe that these issues can be ironed out before they fully roll out the changes to all users in the upcoming months.