Google’s Zagat brand just got a redesigned Website and new apps for iOS and Android users, but it’s already being criticized by some users for its limited possibilities—it features only nine cities around the globe so far for its food and restaurant reviews.
The search giant unveiled its relaunch of the Zagat brand July 29 in a post by Gannon Hall, group product manager and head of Zagat, on the Google Official Blog. Hall acknowledged the limited coverage for the new site and apps but promised more destinations would be coming soon.
“The new Zagat covers restaurants and nightlife in nine cities, and over the coming months we plan to expand to 50 U.S. and international destinations and cover shopping, hotels and other places of interest,” wrote Hall. “We know that many of you are eager to have continued access to our content in these markets, so in advance of this expansion, we’ll soon make our existing ratings and reviews available on Zagat.com.”
One change that users are sure to like is that for the first time they won’t have to register to see the detailed reviews up close, which they had to do in the past, wrote Hall.
So far, the new Zagat Website and the mobile apps for Android and iPhone cover reviews in Austin, Texas, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., as well as London.
The reviews so far follow Zagat tradition, with content provided by local editors who create lists such as “10 Hidden Restaurant Gardens Around D.C.,” which are then made available to users along with search and mapping tools to make each destination easy to find, he wrote.
“These days, the challenge in deciding where to go is not about a lack of information or user reviews, but finding accurate information and trusted opinions so you can quickly make informed decisions,” wrote Hall. “Through our digital products—and the Google products you use every day like the new Google Maps for Mobile—you can rely on Zagat’s curated lists and summary reviews to cut through the clutter so you can find the perfect spot.”
Some early users of the new apps and Website didn’t seem to be as impressed, judging from comments they posted on the blog page announcing the move.
“The new app sucks. Only support for 9 cities,” wrote Mike Thompson. “I submitted bug reports for only showing 2 restaurants in my city and they remove local content from the app. I uninstalled it since it is now useless to me.”
Gianluca Fiorelli agreed. “Citing from the site: ‘Zagat’s editorial team curates the best restaurants & nightspot establishments in 9 cities worldwide.’ Telling [us] that 8 USA cities + London is curating the best worldwide is like telling that the USA baseball league is the baseball world championship.” He wrote. “Sincerely I hope Zagat will be quick adding new cities like Paris, Rome, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo … Until then, even if I like the redesign, I won’t find it that useful, both for personal use both for my clients to be in.”
Google Reveals New Zagat Website, Mobile Apps
User Michael Liebman wrote that the new offering is definitely wanting. “So I have to go back to buying and carrying the annual printed survey book in order to see listing for more than just the curated list?” he wrote. “I guess I’ll be looking elsewhere for restaurant reviews.”
David Bizer, meanwhile, wrote that he hopes the services will improve quickly. “I was super excited to see this and then I downloaded it. 9 cities, no Europe – I see it says it’s coming in the blog – hopefully soon. Reviews on functionality in the App Store aren’t great either. Come on Google – all of us food people are counting on you to continue and make Zagat even better!”
Two IT analysts told eWEEK that the early release of the products before they are actually finished isn’t a shock.
“Google often releases stuff before it’s fully cooked,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst of Enderle Group. “But I’m not convinced it’s good policy” because it can leave early users disappointed. Another recent example of that is Google’s release of its new $35 Chromecast television dongle, which went on sale July 25, said Enderle. “Look at Chromecast—it’s pretty light on features and things but they just released it. They tend to release things and then improve the products over time.”
Dan Maycock, an analyst with Slalom Consulting, said he thinks that Google got the revised Zagat offerings out the door as part of a larger, long-term project. “Are they going after services like Yelp?” he said. “I think there’s a bigger strategy at play. They’re trying to become the destination for people looking for destinations. It feels like this is another aspect of that bigger strategy.”
Google purchased Zagat, which aggregates reviews on restaurants, nightspots, hotels and other attractions from around the world, in September 2011 after Google failed in several previous attempts to buy similar businesses. In 2009 Google unsuccessfully sought to buy local review powerhouse Yelp in 2009 and in 2010 failed in a try for coupon provider Groupon. After those deals died, Google went on to relaunch its local search product as Google Places, significantly improving the service with its own recommendation engine and reviews.
Earlier in July, Google also announced that its Zagat reviews were getting new 5.0 star rating systems in the latest Google Maps apps for iPhone and iPad, and for Android devices. The ratings systems give users Zagat’s ratings on restaurants, bars, cafes and other destinations. Reviews from friends and acquaintances are also available through the apps.