Google offers local searches on mobile devices

Users can find nearby coffee shops, stores or restaurants while walking down the street

Wish you had an easy way to find out whether there's a coffee shop or an Apple store nearby?

Well, if you're using an iPhone or an Android cell phone, now you can open up a window in the browser to find out.

Google Inc. late yesterday announced Near Me Now, a local mobile app that can display search results on mobile phones that show the locations of nearby businesses.

"Near Me Now was designed to address two user problems," wrote John Eric Hoffman and Jussi Myllymaki, members of the Google Mobile Engineering team, in a blog post. "First, we wanted to make it fast and easy to find out more about a place in your immediate vicinity, whether you're standing right in front of a business or if it's just a short walk away. Second, we wanted to make searching for popular categories of nearby places really simple. Imagine that you emerge from the subway station and you want to grab a coffee, but you don't see a coffee shop around you. You can simply search for all nearby coffee shops by using Near Me Now."

The app also has a feature called Explore Right Here that's designed to let users expand searches to get more information about a place. When a restaurant comes up in a local search, they could dig down for reviews and menus.

Over the past several months, Google has been doing quite a bit of work on helping users find local hot spots even friends in an area.

Last November, Google announced Google Latitude, an upgrade to Google Maps that finds the location of friends' residences. The Google Latitude tool lets users contact friends via SMS, Google Talk or Gmail.

Sharon Gaudin covers Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies and desktop/laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter @sgaudin, send e-mail at or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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