Google has released version 5.8 of Google Maps for Android based mobile devices. The update adds a number of new features, including making it easier for users to upload photos from their phones and tag establishments.
The changes are actually less focused on the map functionality and more on the application’s integration with Google Places and Latitude. For all the recent discussion of Google’s entrance into the social networking space (again) with Plus and its upcoming battles with Facebook and Twitter, it’s worth noting that these changes take more direct aim at services such as foursquare and Yelp (and Facebook check-ins).
Perhaps the most important change, in that sense, is being able to upload photos for a Place directly from your phone. Very rarely do restaurant goers take the time to upload their photos from a dining experience when they get home. Now they can build far richer content into Places with a few clicks on their phone. These photos can be viewed or removed using your Picasa account.
Also, Places now allows “descriptive terms” from your phone, certainly capturing more real-time reactions of an establishment’s qualities. These terms (“Great meatball sub”, “Rowdy bar”, etc.) then bubble to the top of the profile for each place upon search. Behind the scenes, these descriptive terms certainly aid establishments in choosing appropriate search terms to bid on.
Another useful feature is being able to add a new establishment “on the go” in Latitude. If you enjoy letting your friends know your location and where you’re hanging out, there is nothing more frustrating than searching for the establishment to no avail. The “Add place” functionality takes care of that issue. This feature has not (yet) been integrated to have the newly created establishment show up on Places or Google Maps. This is likely to prevent people from creating fake or unauthorized accounts where they could then trash a place they don’t like.