When Sony first debuted Vita's Near software, it was initially a social tool for Vita owners to do activities like compare trophies, recommend games, and keeping track of friends with GPS. Near still retains those features but its primary role has changed, now acting similar to Nintendo 3DS' StreetPass feature though more flexible and can be controlled by Vita users.
Sony describes Near as a "location-based gifting system" that allows a Vita user to set up data to be traded with other Vita users. This data can be in-game items, unlockables, or some user-made challenge. The gift distributor has control over various aspects of gift distribution such as how many times gift can be picked up, making gifts have an expiration date, and limiting access to the gift.
Unlike SpotPass, a Vita user does not necessarily have to pass by another fellow Vita owner to have a shot at getting a gift. The gift distributor goes about their daily routine in real life then syncs their Vita with a Near server to record where they have been. Should another Vita user pass through the same locations the distributor has visited, they can get gifts when their Vita syncs with a Near server. You'll receive a gift for every location the distributor passed through.
Sony is also bundling other built-in software with Vita. LiveArea can be considered a starting point for Vita owners when they boot up the system, allowing users to see what their friends are up to, check out any upcoming news or DLC about a game, and see the latest additions to PSN. Sony is leaving it up to developers and publishers to put out content on LiveArea.
Party is a gathering area for friends to chat and start games together. Four Vita users can start their own group and chat with each other by way of text or voice, regardless of what activity they're doing on their Vita (even playing games). Your PSN friends list is also managed within Party.
PlayStation Vita will launch this holiday season for $249. A 3G model will sell for $299.