Google Maps for Android 4.4 Gets Places Icon

Google adds a dedicated Places icon for Google Maps for Android 4.4, part of a location-based services strategy to help make Android smartphones more valuable to users. Apple's iPhone is following a similar path.

Google July 26 pushed out Google Maps for Android 4.4 with a dedicated icon to let users look up nearby places and choose a location from Google Maps' Place Pages.

The new Places icon appears in the app launcher for Android phone users, who may press, hold down and drag it onto their home screen like any other app.

The app comes in handy for those in an unfamiliar area who are looking for some type of local business, such as a restaurant, shoe store or movie theater.

The options will appear in a detailed list, and users can tap on a listing to learn more about it on its Place Page.

Users can add their own categories for frequent searches and use the search bar at the top to type or speak any query.

Place Pages for Google's mobile app have been drastically improved and now feature prices, parking and menu links in addition to photos and reviews. This puts the feature more in line with Place Pages on the desktop.

The Place Page and search result updates are coming soon for BlackBerry users, but today the new Google Maps is available only for devices running Android 1.6 and newer.

Users who don't already use it can search for Google Maps in Android Market.

Google Maps for Android 4.4 comes just over one month since Version 4.3, which included better user reviews, upcoming schedules for transit station Web pages and a revised Google Latitude app.

The Latitude app lets users who have opted into the friend-finding service share their location with friends, loved ones and others from Google Contacts right from the bottom of their friends list.

All of these features are geared to improve the location-based services on Android smartphones, something Apple is also working to achieve for its popular iPhone.