Google's library of data is immense, sometimes dauntingly so. The new Google Places iPhone app is an elegant entry point into one particularly dark and disorganized fold of Google's mega-brain: their restaurant, bar, and venue listings.
What is it?
Google Places, iPhone, Free. Once upon a time, Google tried to buy the restaurant-rating site Yelp. When that fell through, they decided they'd just build their own version. Google Places for iPhone, which includes Google's new restaurant recommendation engine, Hotpot, is a key piece of that puzzle, a polished resource for finding nearby restaurants, bars and cafes when people are out and about. Places has been on Android for a minute now, natch, but the iPhone version opens the service up to tons more users (and soon, with the Verizon iPhone, tons and tons of more users).
The app is pretty straightforward: you can use (quite nicely designed) buttons to find "restaurants," "coffee", "bars", "ATMs" and so on near you, or you can search for more specific desires. Results can be viewed on a map or in a list, and, of course, once you've zeroed in on a place and gotten your fix, the app makes it easy to rate with Hotpot, thus improving the recommendations the app spits out at you in the future.
Who's it good for?
People who are into finding new places to eat and drink; people who are into rating the places they eat and drink; people who have thrown their hands up, heaved the heavy sign and resigned to the fact that Google probably isn't the worst omniscient recommendation-giver that could exist in this crazy techno-world of ours.
Why's it better than alternatives?
It's got the big G behind it, which means that it's already got a massive directory of places. Reviewing restaurants is super easy, and if you don't feel compelled to write some lengthy book report on the place you just visited you can simply assign it a rating out of 5 stars and tap a few emoticons relating to various aspects of your experience (Service? SMILEY FACE, and so on). And it's safe to say that most of your friends probably have a Google account, so if Places and Hotpot take off like Google hopes they will, the road for personal friend-based recommendations will be paved.
How could it be even better?
Again: It's got the big G behind it, which means that it's already got a massive directory of places—almost too massive (and in many cases unevaluated) for those who have grown accustomed to Yelp's human touch.
Google Places, Free | iTunes
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