Google recently released a new API meant to bring a bit of the real world to mobile apps. The company launched the Places API for Android and kickstarted a beta Places API for iOS, too. Google says the APIs will help developers’ apps “speak the same language” as their users.
As Google notes, people don't speak in coordinates. No one ever hops into a taxi and says, “Take me to 40.7506, -73.9936.” Instead, they say, “Take me to Madison Square Garden.” The crux of the Places API is exactly this, it brings real-world places to the coordinates served up by location apps and services. Developers can access Google’s database of 100 million place-names (restaurants, museums, hotels, businesses, attractions) and apply them to their own apps.
The API packages together several tools. First, a place picker. This is a drop-in user interface widget that lets users specify an actual place rather than coordinates. In other words, they can type “Empire State Building” and the app can then find the relevant coordinates in the background. The API can determine the place-name of users’ current location, too, and shows detailed place information, such as address, phone number, and website. It does this automatically with no input from the user. The API includes an autocomplete function, which helps save time and can prevent errors. Google says adding new places to maps that are relevant to app users can make the app stand out. Last, the API lets developers improve the map by reporting the presence of a device or specific place.
Google is offering a significant range of documentation for the Places API for Android. It has guides, reference material, code samples, and support all available in a single place. There’s even a geeky video. Google didn’t have much to say about the Places API beta for iOS. Developers interested in taking the beta for a test ride can sign up here. It looks as though Google is playing its iOS card close to its chest for now.