Many mobile industry insiders and pundits have argued that when GPS becomes ubiquitous then “location based services” will really take off. The problem is: GPS doesn’t always work, it isn’t yet in every device, and isn’t always enabled even if it is present. But the premise that passive location awareness represents a big opportunity in mobile is correct. Accordingly, Google is introducing a new “My Location” feature for Google Maps for Mobile that takes advantage of GPS (if present) but uses cell-tower triangulation for the majority of phones where GPS isn’t present or won’t work for one reason or another.
In non-GPS scenarios the service can pinpoint user location within 500 to 5000 meters. Where it uses GPS, the new feature identifies user location precisely. Here’s how Google explains how My Location works:
Mobile towers are placed by operators throughout an area to provide coverage for their users. Each of these towers has its own individual coverage area, usually split into three non-overlapping sections know as “cells.” These cells come with identification numbers, but no location information. Google takes geo-contextual information [from anonymous GPS readings, etc.] and associates this information with the cell at that location to develop a database of cell locations. Based on this information, Google uses various algorithms to approximate a user’s handset location relative to the cells nearest to them. The accuracy of this information depends on how big an individual cell is. Thus, areas with a denser concentration of mobile towers allow for a more accurate My Location reading. Additionally, as our database of cell locations continues to improve, so too does the accuracy and coverage of the My Location feature.
In order to fix your location, you press the “0″ key on the handset. It doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, but it has performed fairly consistently in my testing. What the user is then permitted to do is conduct a search and discover results in closest proximity nearby. It removes the inconvenience of keying in location information.
One can simply enter “Starbucks” or “sushi” or “salons” or any other query and find the nearest locations. It thereby eliminates the frustrations of having to key in additional characters or query terms.
My Location is available today for the majority of smartphones, including BlackBerry, Nokia (Series 60), and many Windows Mobile phones. Not supported currently are the iPhone, Motorola Q, Samsung Blackjack, and Palm Treo 700w. The service works in the US, UK, most of Europe, including Russia, and in Taiwan. It’s not currently available in China or Japan.
There is no advertising on Google Maps for Mobile now, of course. But expect that, over time, ads will be introduced just as they exist on Google Maps on the desktop. More precise user location information creates an opportunity for those ads to become much more locally relevant than on the PC.
Here’s a video that explains My Location: