Google's Google Places pushes further on Yelp today as it joins iPhone. Like Yelp, the free app, originally released for Android, lets you look up and rate local business. Since it's Google, the Places app ups the ante with another feature, recommendations supplied by Google's Hotpot recommendations engine.
To start using Places, log into your Google account and begin either searching for local businesses or browsing by category for nearby listings. Categories include the usuals--coffee, restaurants, gas stations, post offices, hotels, and so on. In addition, you can effortlessly add your own search categories even if they're not specially recommended.
The Google Places app slurps content from Google Place Pages, a Web project to automatically aggregate information about businesses, including user ratings, into a single Google-hosted Web page. Much of the information already lives on the Web (although businesses can also participate), but Google's involvement clearly looms over Yellow Pages and all other listings and rating sites' territory, particularly because it also links to the company's ubiquitous maps.
When you click up a listing, you'll have options to read reviews, locate it on a map, call or find directions, and review the location. You can also review a business from the Places home screen if the GPS correctly identifies your location (this won't always be the case). Your reviews join everyone else's in contributing to the overall score you see on any Place page.
Google's socializing gambit is google.com/hotpot, a related site for adding Google-using friends. The Hotpot recommendation engine being used in the Places apps then takes your buddies' reviews into account when recommending good places for you to try.
The app was convenient and easy to use overall, but we did wish it were easier to browse by category for places in a different location, not necessarily where you are. We'd also expect Google to start taking advantage of this crowdsourcing app by offering some sort of daily deal a la Groupon, or other discounts. Places is straightforward, without some of Yelp's more advanced features, like the augmented reality feature, Monacle.
For now, Google Places for iPhone is available in English, with other languages expected soon.