A brand new version of Google+ began rolling out to Android users yesterday, but it didn't initially appear to do much more than tweak a few layouts and change the colors to something more theme-appropriate. During the initial teardown, we also stumbled onto the newly expanded Pinning feature, but Google beat us to the punch. Of course, since the feature is on a staged rollout to users, plenty of people won't see that quite yet. Fortunately, there were still some more things hidden beneath that digital surface.
If we've learned anything from Facebook, it's that social networking apps can crumble into useless lumps when bandwidth is limited. For most users, it's probably pretty tough to find more than a handful of text-only posts amidst hundreds with an article thumbnail, hero image, video preview, or animated gif... So. Damn. Many. GIFs. #pixelpushthis
Sorry, there aren't going to be any options to turn off images, but Google+ will try to be a little more responsible when it detects poor network conditions. When the quality of a connection gets too bad, image quality can automatically scale down to ensure performance doesn't grind to a halt. This will be a welcome change in areas with severe network crowding, poor infrastructure, or just crumby cell towers.
Connection quality will be categorized into 4 buckets: Very Low, Low, Standard, and High. Images will be served based on the quality of the connection, with the quality scale dropping roughly 20% with each successive drop in bucket. This may change in the future, but it appears to be the current methodology. There is also some kind of support for metered connections; however, it's not clear if these will be given a default quality level, or if it will be up to the user to make that determination.
Based on the strings and a few things I've seen in the code, it's clear that this feature is still in the testing stages. It's considered a dogfood feature, therefore only available to Google staff. There are a number of features that are clearly intended to make life a little easier for testing, including a "display overlay" to display the current network conditions as they have been detected, and a shortcut to clear the image cache and allow images to be redownloaded with the now current conditions.
<activity android:exported="false" android:label="@string/media_settings_activity" android:name="com.google.android.libraries.social.media.settings.DeveloperMediaQualitySettingsActivity" android:theme="@style/Theme.Settings.Preferences"/>
<string name="low_bandwidth_pref_title">Conserve data usage</string>
<string name="low_bandwidth_pref_summary">Could affect image quality</string>
<string name="media_settings_activity">Advanced Media Settings</string>
<string name="advanced_settings_link">Developer Media Settings</string>
<string name="automatic_quality_pref_title">Automatic Media Quality</string>
<string name="standard_quality_pref_title">Standard Quality</string>
<string name="low_quality_pref_title">Low Quality</string>
<string name="very_low_quality_pref_title">Very Low Quality</string>
<string name="metered_connection_pref_title">Force metered network connection</string>
<string name="overlay_pref_title">Display Overlay</string>
<string name="clear_cache_pref_title">Clear Cache</string>
<string name="clear_cache_toast">Cache cleared successfully</string>
<string name="network_speed_category_title">Network speed</string>
<string name="automatic_network_speed_pref_title">Automatic Network Speed Detection</string>
<string name="automatic_network_speed_pref_summary">Current speed:</string>
<string name="very_low_speed_network_title">Very Low</string>
Storyboard / Timeline Editor
I'll confess, this one could be a bit of a red herring. Two new strings related to "storyboard" turned up, including one that would be a button name, and the other is a toast message that would be shown after a video is saved back to Google's servers. There has never been a string with storyboard in the name, but there is already a storyboard / timeline editor in place. Also, I can't find either of these strings in the live interface. These details together are just enough to make me question if there might be something here. On the other hand, I rarely use this part of the app, so it's totally possible I'm just missing it. I suspect this will turn out to be a small interface tweak, but it's possible that something new is in the works.
<string name="content_storyboard">Show timeline editor</string>
<string name="has_saved_cloud_storyBoard_toast_message">Saving. You will get notified when done.</string>
2014 Yearbook Promo
During these teardowns, we regularly see promo text and graphics long before they go live. Sometimes they're dedicated to new features (e.g. YouTube Music Key) and other times they are just something special Google is cooking up. This one is the latter. Google+ is going to generate a "Yearbook" of photos from 2014 for everybody to share with their friends and family. This probably won't be any different than the auto-generated highlight reels that appear after a trip or event, but it will include everything special from the entire year.
Note: Google did one of these for 2013, as well. I still think it's worth noting that another is coming this year.
<string name="photo_yb2014_promo_title">Your Year in Photos 2014</string>
<string name="photo_yb2014_promo_noedit">Tap Share to show friends and family your photo highlights</string>
<string name="photo_yb2014_promo_edit">Tap the pencil to remove photos, edit the title, and change music</string>
That's about it for this version of Google+. I've got a few more apps left to check after the Update Wednesday Blitz, so there may be more to come in the next couple of days.