14
Feb
ic_gplus_red_32
Last Updated: February 26th, 2013

In the recent weeks, Google+ has had 2 pretty low-profile updates. The first one added a notification tray, and the most recent one was supposedly just a bug fix release, but they've both been adding new things, presumably for a coming update. Yes, it's teardown time.

These teardown sessions seems to get more and more mysterious and strange as time goes on, and frankly I'm really not sure what's going on with these updates. I'm just going to lay out the facts first, and I'll throw some theories at you at the end. So put on your investigation hats - this should be fun.

The Facts

There have been two minor Google+ updates lately: a January 30th update versioned as 3.5.0.41809231, and a February 13th update versioned 3.5.3.42448346.

<string name="apps_preference_manage_apps_button">Manage Apps</string>
<string name="apps_preference_manage_apps_summary">Manage the apps you have signed in to with Google, including who can see app activities on Google.</string>

Our first piece of evidence comes from the January 30th update, which contained this fresh bit of text. I posted about this on my Google+ page (you should totally follow me), and, once the February 13th update came out, it was gone. Google removed it from the APK. Interpret that however you'd like.

ic_nav

The second piece of evidence is this new icon, in the top left, called "ic_nav_apps." It showed up in the February 13th update. Here it is next to the other icons called "ic_nav_[whatever].png." The other "ic_nav" icons are all main menu items.

Theory Time

wm_Screenshot_2013-02-13-20-47-27

Now, you might do what I did at first, and put item #1 and item #2 together and get something like this, a "Manage Apps" menu item. That seems like the easiest and most logical answer, but it would be wrong. The icon belongs there, but the text does not. Let's go find all the other text for this menu.

<string name="home_stream_label">Home</string>
<string name="home_screen_profile_label">Profile</string>
<string name="home_screen_huddle_label">Messenger</string>
<string name="home_screen_people_label">Find people</string>
<string name="home_screen_squares_label">Communities</string>
<string name="home_screen_photos_label">Photos</string>
<string name="home_screen_hangout_label">Hangouts</string>
<string name="home_screen_events_label">Events</string>
<string name="home_screen_local_label">Local</string>
<string name="search_activity_label">Search</string>

It's not the most consistent thing in the world, but the internal names all at least contain the word "label" and usually the word "home." Now, let's look at that "Manage Apps" text again:

<string name="apps_preference_manage_apps_button">Manage Apps</string>
<string name="apps_preference_manage_apps_summary">Manage the apps you have signed in to with Google, including who can see app activities on Google.</string>

See the difference? There is no "home" or "label" text, and, also, where the heck would that giant description text go? These are both labeled "Preference," so they actually go in the settings page...

wm_2013-02-13-22.42

...which would look like this. This is a perfect fit. There's a settings header in the strings file that says "Apps," all the other text on this screen has "preference" in the string name (for instance, "photo_preference_instant_upload_button"), and the "manage app" text is actually next to the other settings strings in the xml file. There's even a spot for the description text.

wm_2013-02-13 23.23.36

What will this actually do? My wild guess is that it would allow you revoke these, which there is currently no way to do. Once you allow an app access to your Google account, I don't think there is any way to turn it off. If I install this app, grant it access, uninstall it, and install it again, I do not have to grant it access a 2nd time. Something, somewhere, remembers.

The closest thing we have right now is this page (Thanks to David Loring for the link), which will let you deauthorize third party web site access to your Google account, but the description for this setting says it's for apps. So this does not exist yet.

The last part of the description says it will let you manage "who can see app activities on Google," which is pretty strange, because I don't think Google displays "app activities" anywhere. I'm not even sure what that means. It sounds like spammy Facebook stuff in the style of "Bob listened to Skrillex on Spotify," which Google+ doesn't do.

Update: Matthew Garbett points out that this sounds a lot like the "Google+ History API," which is currently in developer preview.

The History API is described thusly: "your site or app will be able to privately save moments, such as a listened song, or a visited restaurant, to your users’ Google+ history." So yep, it sounds like "Bob listened to Skrillex on Spotify" is coming to G+.

Matthew is in the developer preview and says it's not as horrible and spammy as Facebook's implementation. It doesn't go into your stream and is a separate section in your profile, just like +1 are. Here's some screenshots of the desktop version.

Screenshot-(28)Screenshot-(29)

As for the icon, that still goes on the main menu, but there's no text for it.

wm_2013-02-13-22.42wm_notext

So, at the end of the day, I think this is what we are left with. A now-removed settings option that will let you manage something that doesn't happen yet, and a mysterious, unlabeled icon called "ic_nav_apps.png" that definitely belongs on the front of the Google+ menu.

There are so many questions. Why is Google adding text and then removing it in the next version? Have they finally caught on to APK Teardown? Do they even care? What is an "app" icon doing on the main menu of Google+? Is this the beginning of a huge Google+ platform push that makes apps run across mobile and the web? Something is cooking at Google HQ.

I will definitely keep my eye on this. It will be interesting to see if the Apps icon disappears in the next update now, too. Until then, have at it in the comments.

Ron Amadeo
Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
  • HellG

    Ron for president anyone?

  • http://profiles.google.com/geoffreyzub Geoffrey S. Zub

    It could be for the Google+ History API (also called Moments) which allows third party apps to insert actions into your Google+ Timeline (like facebook). The Docs on the API are here: https://developers.google.com/+/history/ If you enable the dev preview you will see how they will integrate other apps in the web ui...

  • Abhigyan Banerjee

    This seems to be a job for 'Sherlock' Ron! Mightily fun post.

  • Luis Reynaldo Corcino

    I do believe that this is pretty strange. Great find.

  • Samuel Lehman

    Android Games linked to Google+ finally?

  • Michael Benesch

    I hope they don't have a similar app setup than Facebook. Too many of them are spam and such.

    • Paul Hounshell

      Are the games in Plus spammy?

  • RitishOemraw

    (you should totally follow me) -> I totally will

    These APK teardowns are reason enough for me to keep visiting AP, the rest is just bonus!

    But, I do think it is for the great merged store platform: google games (android games, G+ games and chrome games)

    • Cody Revels

      I totally already follow him. :D

  • CuriousCursor

    You can revoke google account access for each app over at https://accounts.google.com/b/0/IssuedAuthSubTokens?hl=en

  • Max Barlow

    I wonder if employees at google sometimes get bored and put little things in apps to see if we find them...

    • Dan

      That's what I was thinking. I can see somebody deciding to have fun trolling Ron for a couple of months with appearing/disappearing weirdness that hints at something.

  • http://twitter.com/08ight 0.8ight

    I think they will fill the white space on Google+ with activities from apps. They will probably start with Google services like Play Music, YouTube, +1, then more third party apps will follow.

    • http://www.facebook.com/willy.lemilliardaire Yannick Essome

      Filling the white space with those activities would make sense. Talking about releasing the API Vic Gundotra said: "When we can do it in a way that we know is good for users, so people's Google+ streams don't get polluted with junk posts." ...and Bradley Horowitz indicated: "Google+ will produce an activity stream generated by all Google products." And now there is the same white space on YouTube and Google Search. Hum, from the look of it, Google+ is about to explode this year.

      • Guest

        "Manage the apps you have signed in to with Google, including who can see app activities on Google."

        You guys are definitely right about the white space thing. The text says "see app activities on Google" and not "on Google+". That means if I write a review, comment on a public post or +1 something, it will appear across Google services in the activity stream on YouTube, Google Search and Google+. I don't know how useful it will be but definitely powerful.

  • Mapplegate

    Looks like it's just the next logical step in Google+ becoming Google's main product, and everything else they make integrating into it.

  • Greyhame

    Ron, love your tear downs. Thanks for spreading the info, clues and tidbits out to the layperson, like myself! Really looking forward to 5.0!

  • Brian Gaid

    Here's my wild theory: Google+ will be the base for the Google/Motorola X Phone.

  • Eric Jones

    I hope it's a way to share Android game scores with Google+. The web version of what I'm talking about works fine, but I almost never play games like that if I have a full computer and internet access. Those games are fun on Android because I play them in waiting rooms, or anywhere else with nothing to do. If it let you sync game progress and scores, it will bring a lot of people to Google+.

  • Guest

    "Once you allow an app access to your Google account, I don't think there is any way to turn it off. If I install this app, grant it access, uninstall it, and install it again, I do not have to grant it access a 2nd time. Something, somewhere, remembers."

    You can turn off access to particular apps/services in account settings (accessed from the upper right corner of most Google pages), then go into security settings, then scroll to the bottom to "Connected Applications and Sites" you can revoke access to a particular app or site there.

    Hope that helps people :D

  • Athishay

    @Ron: I know this is off topic but can we have a keyboard shootout again? You stopped with swiftkey and swype!

  • HomerSp

    I would keep my eyes open for an update to Google Play services, because the Google+ app looks for an intent action called com.google.android.gms.plus.action.MANAGE_APPS and that determines whether the Manage Apps option is visible. Which, btw, is added to the left navbar right above the Search option and not the settings page.

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