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Death of Google+ greatly exaggerated, says its chief

Yes, Google is spinning off the troubled social network's popular photo features. But that doesn't mean Google+ is going bye-bye, says its product VP.

Google announced a new photo app separate from its social network. James Martin/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- For everyone who's been on Google+ deathwatch, the search giant says that's not necessary.

Google's embattled social network is alive and well, the product's boss said at a press event Thursday. But the team behind the product -- which has had trouble gaining traction with consumers -- is rethinking the goal of the service.

"Google+ will be changing," Bradley Horowitz said during an event at Google's annual I/O conference for software developers. "There's a renaissance in the thinking of what Google+ is, and what it's for."

The social network's future was called into question when Google announced, earlier in the day, a new service called Google Photos, which turned Google+'s photo features into a standalone app. The social network never caught on with consumers like rival Facebook -- the world's largest social network -- or even younger offerings like Snapchat, but the product's photo features were always well received. Stripping away the service from Google+ made some people question the company's commitment to the social network.

The move comes as Google makes a push to become the software maker that touches every part of consumers' lives. The company's software powers everything from smartphones to car dashboards to TVs.

Google's Photo service enters a race that has heated up over the past several months. Dropbox has a photo storage app called Carousel, and Yahoo earlier this month overhauled its Flickr service. The redesign includes more-advanced search features designed to make it easier to sort through photos.

Google's service also has a big focus on categorization. The app -- which gives consumers unlimited storage space -- automatically sorts pictures, so family photos, say, are grouped in a different place from receipts for your expense reports.

So why separate the photo features from Google+? Bradley said the social network has a new mission: to connect people based on shared interests. Earlier this month, Google announced a new feature for the product called Collections, which is similar to what rival Pinterest does with its online bulletin boards.

When Bradley looked at Google+'s photo features, he thought they didn't fit with the product. "It's not clear that personal-photos management is aligned with the mission of Google+," he said.

"The number of photos we share is a small percentage of the photos we take," he said.