If you're already using a Google phone or tablet, you may wonder why you'd need a Google app. After all, you probably already have a Google widget pre-installed on the home screen of your Android device. Well, it turns out that searching for things on the web is just one of the many things that the app's good for, though you may encounter some quirks, depending on how you use it.
Goes beyond Android's Google search widget: As on iOS, the Google app combines Google search, a customizable personal news feed, and an embedded version of the Google Chrome web browser (though on Android, you can tell the app to use any other web browser on your device). Meanwhile, if you tap on the Google widget pre-installed on most Android home screens, you just get a search interface with a few trending suggestions.
You can also set reminders within the app that are stored in the cloud and thus available to you wherever you have the app installed, whether you're using iOS or Android. So although it may seem redundant to have the Google app on a Google device, it actually does present some neat features.
A smart and flexible update feed: You can't browse news topics like you can with the Google News app, but it does a surprisingly good job of prioritizing things that you're likely to be interested in. If you're not, you can tap on the three-dot button on the offending card and tell Google that you're not interested in that topic, or not interested in that news source. You can also tap on Customize Stories in this menu to see everything that you've tagged for the feed.
From here, you can tap on Follow Topics to get a browsable directory, or you can go to the Sports, Weather, or Commute sections and tap on View All Settings to get notification options specific to those categories. With the Sports section, for example, you can select teams that you want to follow and examine the list of teams that you've previously tagged as not being interested in. You can also designate entire sports leagues to get news about.
Not interested in sports at all? Just tap the slider next to "Sports updates" at the top, and you won't need to deal with that in your feed again.
In addition to news, the feed can also alert you to travel and weather updates, upcoming bills and sports games, stock prices, and even price drops on items that you've searched for on Google before. All in all, there's a surprising amount of utility here beyond just using the app to conduct a web search.
Separation between the Google app and the Google Assistant app feels arbitrary: On iOS, having two apps make sense, because there are some people who prefer Siri over the Google Assistant. So using the Google app there gives you Google search while retaining Apple's virtual assistant for other tasks, like setting timers or sending a text message. On Android, however, it feels like two overlapping apps that should be combined into one. The Google Pixel Launcher app is one form of this already; from your home screen, you can swipe to the left to access everything that's in the Google app, or you can long-press on the home button to conjure the Google Assistant.
App settings on iOS and Android use completely different layouts: If you're using a mix of the two platforms, you may encounter some frustration when you want to adjust your settings, because they speak two different design languages. On iOS, there are category separations and more menus within menus. On Android, you get more of a laundry list showing all the sections where you can make changes. Since the Google app on Android has a few features not available in the iOS version, this can make their distinctions that much more difficult to find.
Of course, if you're only using one OS or the other, this won't matter. But if at some point you decided to make the switch, there's a lot of opportunity for confusion.
While Google's business decisions and app settings can be puzzling, the Google app itself is a surprisingly expansive portal to what's going on in your life and in the world around you.