Business-ratings app Yelp just got a massive dose of competition from a much larger source.
Google updated its Maps for Android (version 4.4) on Monday in the Android Market to make its more usable. In doing so, Google's solution for taking business listings mobile resembles Yelp's Android feature set more than it ever has before.
Once you install the update (and in our case, reboot your Android phone), you will see a new Places icon in your list of applications. Tapping the icon pulls up a finger-friendly interface with icons for seven categories you might try to locate nearby: restaurants, coffee, bars, hotels, attractions, ATMs, and gas stations.
It has a search bar at the top, a shortcut to Google Maps app, and a GPS location bar to round out the view. An "add" button helpfully lets you create your own shortcuts for often searched terms, like the post office, movie theater, or bakery.
As with Yelp, searching with the new Places interface delivers a sponsored link and information about businesses in your neighborhood, including an address, rating (if available), user reviews, and whether the business is currently open or closed for the day. You can also star it to add it to your favorites.
Tapping the entry bring up more business details, such as the price level, Wi-Fi hot spot information, Web site address, as well as shortcut buttons to plot the location on a map, get directions, call the business, or get a Street View image.
The app worked seamlessly in our quick tests in downtown San Francisco. However, its results page isn't as visually slick as Yelp is, and you can't add your own review (or snippets of a review) from the app.
It's no surprise that Google scours Yelp, along with CitySearch, GrubHub, Yahoo, and other sources, for information about each establishment. For Google, aggregating data from around the Web is key to its Place Pages having the most complete data set on a location available, and winning more users. In fact, one of the nicest side effects of Google's aggregation is that it links to GrubHub, Menutopia, and Zagat for menu pages, an often-elusive and yet important portion of restaurant research.
Google Maps for mobile 4.4 is compatible with Android version 1.6 and above. BlackBerry users should stay tuned for a similar update that's "coming soon," according to a Google blog post. Unfortunately, we don't know if that means days or weeks.