Google has offered a browse centric (as opposed to search) directory of local business listings for quite some time: Places Directory. But with its new Maps upgrade for Android the company is encouraging users to put "Places," a cleaner, more attractive version of Places Directory, on their homescreens:
On Android-powered phones with Google Maps 4.4, you’ll find the new Places icon in the app launcher with the rest of your apps. Press and drag it right onto your home screen to use it when you’re looking for a restaurant, shoe store, movie theater or any other type of local business. You'll get a detailed list of all the nearest places and can choose one to learn more about it on its Place Page.
Some folks are seeing this as a bid to compete more aggressively with Foursquare and Yelp on mobile devices, with check-ins to come. Maybe so, however Google is equally motivated to create uniformity and correspondence between Places online and on mobile devices. It has made a big investment in Places online and wants to extend usage to mobile devices.
Regardless of its precise motivations Google is obviously a formidable competitor in mobile, especially on Android devices. It basically "owns" the home screen unless users actively set up alternative content sources to Google.
Google now has a range of interesting and varied local assets in mobile that it needs to better integrate: Buzz, Places, Latitude, Maps, Navigation. Google can also benefit by aggregating and presenting geotagged data from the Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare APIs in one or more of these properties.
One of the issues with all of these "around me" or "near me" tools is that they fail to recognize the "near future" use case: where I'll be tonight or tomorrow. I suppose the thought is that "conventional" local search will address this need. However "where I'll be later on" is a scenario currently not well served in mobile.