Today at the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco, Google announced the opening up and general availability of the Google Places API.

The API, which has been in a closed beta testing and only available for a select number of companies for the past year, gives developers access to Google's database of restaurants, bars, hotels and various other points of interest.

Google announced the opening up of the API to the general public this morning at a session on connecting people with places, led by VP of location and local services Marisa Meyer. We got a chance to talk with Thor Mitchell, product manager of the Google Maps API and he explained that the Places API will give developers access to more than 50 million places and several new features. By comparison, when location data service SimpleGeo launched last December, it started with 13 million places and just recently announced that it was open sourcing more than 20 million.

The Places API was first introduced at Google I/O last year and has been in use by a number of companies, including location-based app SCVNGR. Over the past year, the company has tested the service and added a number of new features:

  • A globally consistent type scheme for Places, spanning more than 100 types such as bar, restaurant, and lodging
  • Name and type based query support
  • A significantly simpler key based authentication scheme
  • Global coverage across every country covered by Google Maps
  • Google APIs Console integration, which provides group ownership of projects, key management, and usage monitoring
  • Instant reflection of new Places submitted by an app in subsequent searches made by that app, with new Places shared with all apps after moderation
  • Real time reranking of search results based on current check-in activity, so that Places that are currently popular are automatically ranked higher in searches by your app

Also included in the newly released API is an autocomplete service, much as users have become used to seeing when searching on Google. The service predicts place results as a user types, meaning that if they are looking for a familiar bar and know the name, they may only need to type a few letters before seeing the result, which can be ultimately helpful on a mobile device.

We asked Mitchell if the API would quickly connect developers to other Google data, such as open hours or Street View imagery and he said that it isn't quite there yet, but it is certainly going in that direction.

For developers and interested parties attending Google I/O, there is a session - "Building Location Based apps using Google APIs" - at 3pm on Wednesday, in which Marcelo Camelo will provide more detail.