The bar to create a location-based app is apparently pretty low. License the business data (most of these apps appear to use similar data; it's similarly faulty), create an interface, and list it in the iTunes store. Many of these apps show all types of businesses, but I'm only looking at restaurants. (See our list of 9 restaurant apps that are worth downloading.)
1. Where To?
What does it do? "Surprise Me" jumps you to a random category for which you can see listings. "Any Restaurant" takes you to a list of all nearby. Or choose your own category.
How well does it work? The design is nice; the nav wheel is pretty cute. Surprise me is a nice idea, but it picks categories. First one I got was brunch, then Peruvian. Boston Market is in the pizza list. "All brands" reveals a big list of chains. The data overall seems very messy. There's a vacation rental in the top result for breakfast, gentlemen's club the Gold Club is marked as Canadian cuisine, while if you're looking for Finnish cuisine you get a coffeehouse.
What does it do? Finds restaurants and other businesses at a specific location. Gets address (no hours), reviews, menu, and website. Has check-in feature, which posts your location to Twitter or Facebook. Special windows for the closest Starbucks and Zipcar locations.
How well does it work? It has editorial reviews and ratings, but the review for McDonald's on Potrero Ave says, "The intoxicating smell of golden fries cooked to crispy perfection and succulent burgers sizzling on the grill permeates the space while a lively chatting and munching crowd maintains a laidback vibe at this famous fast food haunt." Sponsored results are up at the top. Info is out of date. The search function is useless; I typed in "Rose Café" and an ice creamery, a hotel, and a nail spa were all ahead of the place I had in mind, Rose's Café.
3. Local Eats
What does it do? Finds restaurants at current location or by distance from a specified address. Gets directions, phone number, and website. Doesn't show hours. Offers coupons.
How well does it work? Refines only by cuisine, not price. Results don't seem very extensive and are focused on finer dining places. Ratings are from Wherethelocalseat.com; there are no actual reviews, though, just those rated "top 100" and "best," though you can't refine those listings; it's one long list of all the bests including places rated best barbecue, best small plates, best seafood.
4. Good Rec
What does it do? Finds restaurants at current location or searches for specific restaurants and specific locations. Shows the GoodRec reviews. Shows hours.
How well does it work? Detail pages are crammed too full. You can review thumbs-up or thumbs-down, add a quick tip, or mark a place as Want to Go. (All these features use fussy symbols: What's the Earth symbol for?) Bucks the trend by using static Yahoo maps (once you're on a detail page). You have to tap "get directions" to jump out to interactive Google maps.
5. Zagat To Go
What does it do? Searches and browses by neighborhood, cuisine, feature, ratings, and newness. Shows hours, maps, Zagat's ratings. You can email details and keep a favorites list.
How well does it work? It uses location but only in the vaguest sense; since I'm on the border of two neighborhoods, I have to browse through both lists to get all the close-by options. Advanced search lets you search multiple neighborhoods at once. Random quotes that show up when the app is loading a page are weird: something about food poisoning, aroma of roach spray, a little too out of context to be comfortable, understandable, or funny. They seem to have chosen the most attitude-filled, negative reviews for the quotes, which is disconcerting when you are looking for something that's actually good.
What does it do? Finds local restaurants that deliver. Filters results by type of food. Some of the restaurants offer online ordering; you tap items on a menu to add them to your order.
How well does it work? It took me a while to figure out that a restaurant had to have "open" and "online ordering" in the results to actually allow ordering at that very moment.
7. YP Mobile
What does it do? Browses Yellow Pages listings. Lets you read CitySearch reviews, get address and phone (sometimes shows hours). Lets you search nearby individual listings.
How well does it work? It's not clear what the hierarchy is in search results. There's no back button on browse results. Every time I choose a browsing selection it asks me whether I'm sure. No menus. Has a "My Plans" tab that is empty; not clear what I have to do in order to have plans.
What does it do? Browses for businesses in a specific area. Shows map, gives directions, lets you add to contacts or call.
How well does it work? Very basic. Has star ratings but they're not explained, not clear where they're from. Popular searches are listed in tabs at the bottom (not very obvious because of the bright yellow background on the rest of the screen). Doesn't show hours.
9. City Mint
What does it do? Finds restaurants that deliver to a specified address or offer pickup. You can order straight from the app and read reviews from Yelp.
How well does it work? Once you find a restaurant, it takes many, many taps to add items to your order.
What does it do? Uses GPS to search nearby, identify restaurants that can be filtered by price and cuisine. Can also search other locations. First step past list page shows a restaurant's recommendations (from GoodRec) as well as address and phone. Tap again to get more details, including hours and a link to reserve through Open Table if applicable.
How well does it work? The recommendations aren't dated so it's really not clear whether the reviews are recent or not. It's nice that the database includes taco trucks, which most of the other apps ignore. Results are ordered by their recommendations, rather than their nearness, which causes some confusion.
What does it do? Shows businesses near you. Detail pages offer directions, phone, Yelp reviews, and search nearby.
How well does it work? Only shows nearby, though you can widen the search radius and sort by rating or distance, or filter by cuisine. Full Yelp reviews are imported. Why wouldn't you just use the Yelp app?
What does it do? Shows businesses nearby, or filters by location or cuisine. Detail pages show phone, address, website. Can email listings to friends.
How well does it work? Double listings for many places, because it shows Yellow Pages, Open Table, or Citysearch data (they're not combined).