Material Design: How to use Google's apps on iPhone and iPad

They're different from what you might expect

Google iOS Apps

Apple and Google may be rivals, but there's no denying how useful Google's apps can be on iPhone and iPad. There's an iOS app for just about every service that Google offers. Gmail, Google Drive, Chrome, Google Calendar, and, of course, search. There are now 50 and counting, so unless you've completely eschewed Google, there's a good chance you have one or more on your iOS device.

By now you may have noticed they look and perform differently from other iOS apps. That's because they follow a design scheme unique to Google called Material Design. It looks great and allows Google to ensure its apps and services look similar across all platforms — iOS, Android, and the web.

The downside is that many of the little tricks you might be used to when navigating on an iPhone or iPad aren't there, so here's a quick guide that will help you avoid getting lost.

Going back is inconsistent

Let's start with the bad news. In a lot of cases, the familiar gesture where you swipe to the right to go back one screen doesn't work. It largely depends on which app you're using.

With Chrome, the slide-to-go-back feature works, but there's more animation involved. With Inbox you can swipe down to close an email or touch the "X" at the top-left of the screen. With Google Photos, you need to touch the back arrow, which can get problematic on an iPhone 6 Plus.

Google iOS Apps
Many actions in Google's apps are universal, but going back isn't one of them.

This probably works this way because it's the most platform-agnostic method possible. For example, on the web you click with the mouse and on Android use the back button. So to keep things equal that means no slide-to-go-back motion for you.

Google account details on the left

Google's apps are primarily cloud-based — bringing in your Gmail, Google photos, Google Drive files, and more — so signing in with your Google account is essential. Google has added this necessity with some design sense with a sliding bar on the left.

Google iOS Apps
The menu bar is found in most Google apps and provides quick access to different settings or features.

This section also doubles as a main hub for other details from the specific app. It takes you to labels in Gmail, bundles in Inbox, recent files in Google Drive, and for most apps it's where you find the settings. Keep in mind that menu bar is always hiding off to the left, ready to serve you when necessary.

One touch to action

Another key element of Material Design that has made its way into several different Google apps is the Floating Action Button. This puts a button at the bottom-right of the screen that serves as the launching point to any number of actions.

Google iOS Apps
The Floating Action Button is designed to give you one-touch access to key functions.

With the Gmail-alternative Inbox, for example, the button can launch a new message or reminder, or email one of your most-contacted colleagues. In Google Docs it will, as you might guess, create a new file. Google continues to roll out this configuration to its suite of apps, so be on the lookout for it.

Following its own beat

Finally, you'll notice that there's an overall design and organizational structure that is definitely different than typical iOS. Material Design organizes information into card-style pieces and relies on images and sharp visuals to differentiate various pieces of the interface.

Google iOS Apps
Google Calendar uses large images and lots of white space as part of its Material Design aesthetic.

Additionally, you'll find that Google has thrown in a few drops of Android in the Google Search app.

Google iOS Apps
In the Google app you navigate just as you would in Android, with a home button, back button, and multitasking icon.

The key is to be mindful that when you use a Google app it's going to work differently from those built by Apple and third-party apps that follow closely to iOS guidelines. The downside is that it leads to an inconsistent interface when compared to what else you do with your iPhone, but if you use those Google services on other devices, you'll feel right at home.