Google Places is now on your iPhone. If you download the app (iTunes link) you get a mobile version of Google Places, Google’s local directory. It shows you nearby restaurants, coffee shops, bars, ATMs, gas stations, hotels, and other attractions. You can also search for any category you like, just like on Google Places proper or on Google Maps for Android.
Google is also serving up the app with Hotpot, its new local recommendation service. When you sign in with a Google identity (like a Gmail username and password), you can rate and review places. The Google Places app only lets you add your reviews and ratings to Hotpot. It doesn’t give you a Hotpot view of places, or allow you to sort places by your friends ratings as you can on the Hotpot Website. Instead, it uses Hotpot in the background to serve up listings and shows you when a place was rated by a friend. Until more people use Hotpot, this is probably a better way to ease people into Hotpot.
When you click on a place in the app, it shows you the address, cumulative rating, with buttons to see it on a map, get directions, or make a call. A “more info” button launches your browser and takes you to the mobile Places page for the place you are looking at. Once you do that, however, there is no way to get back to the app without launching it from scratch.
Perhaps the most important feature for Google is getting people to write more native reviews using the app. The app shows excerpts of reviews from around the web like on Yelp or Insiderpages, and below that are the native Google reviews. Currently, Google Places does not have a lot of great quality reviews written by Google users themselves. Therefore, Google built the product on the backs of reviews from other sites on the Web. But Google wants to build up its own corpus of reviews, and with apps like this it is going straight to consumers to get them to rate and review places around where they live, work, and travel.
Google is pushing Google Places on its main search page, and now it is attacking from the mobile flank. The more native ratings and reviews Google Places can gather, the more it becomes a direct competitor to the Yelps and Citysearches of the world it currently indexes to fill in the details on its Place pages. Note that Yelp and Citysearch have competing iPhone apps as well. Which one are you going to use?