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Hands on with the Yahoo Sketch-a-Search iPhone app

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Once in a while, someone cranks out one of those instantly indispensable Apple iPhone apps – a program that answers a deep and primal need. Like the deep and primal need to know the best taco stand within a three-block radius. Or the deep and primal need to use the tip of your finger like a Magic Marker. In many ways, Yahoo's new Sketch-a-Search engine, which is available for free today on the iPhone and iPod Touch, is that application.

Here's the basic gist: Sketch-a-Search is a location-based dining guide. You turn the thing on, and it brings up a Google map of your immediate surroundings. Let's say you're looking for a cheap, fun Asian restaurant, no more than four city blocks away. Using your finger, you can trace a big circle on the Google map, press the search button, and voila – Yahoo Sketch-a-Search churns out the closet results, with ratings and photos of the closest joints.

"We're growing our mobile audience globally by providing people with search experiences that have simple input and discovery methods, and advertisers with a highly engaged mobile audience," Yahoo exec David Ko said in a statement. There's something to Ko's words. We've spent about an hour with Sketch-a-Search, and by far the most rewarding part of the experience is the simplicity of the search function. Everything is point, drag, tap.

Plus, who doesn't like finger painting?

On the downside, Sketch-a-Search is a little lacking in the results department. We set the app loose on a Brooklyn neighborhood, which has a preponderance of cheap Asian and Mexican cuisine. Still, when we searched for "casual" or "fun" Asian food, we came up with only a few results – and Yahoo seemed to overlook our favorite sushi joint, which definitely qualifies as both "casual" and "fun."

If Yahoo can bolster the search results – and add more photos and reviews of restaurants across the US – the Sketch-a-Search app would be top notch. As is, it's something of a work-in-progress. Have you used Sketch-a-Search? Drop us a line in the comments section, and we'll publish your reviews.

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