Google geolocation API gets the green light

As foreshadowed by Charles Wiles at the Mobile Monday London event in July, and as announced on the Google Mobile official blog as well as on Charles’ blog, the Google Gears API is now location enabled for both desktop browsers (via IP address) as well as mobile browsers (windows mobile only at the moment) using cell-ID or GPS.

This is the first step in the seamless location enablement of mobile applications, and brings economical location aware applications that are operator independent one step closer.

As I have mentioned in previous posts here on London Calling, the work Google has been doing in the mobile location space to build a massive database of cell-ID’s is starting to bear fruit.  The Google Gears upgrade will now allow mobile and web developers to add location to their application.

The first example of these in the UK are lastminute.com (go to m.lastminute.com on your windows mobile device and select fonefood) and Rummble (m.rummble.com).

In each of these examples, rather than having to type in the postcode of where you are located, Google Gears does it for you, using your inbuilt GPS, or the Google mobile maps cell-ID database, no matter which mobile operator you are using.

Why enable this through Google Gears?

Anyone familiar with location will tell you that grabbing location information from the mobile handset is not a trivial exercise.  Symbian series 60 makes it easier, but Java, Brew and Windows Mobile do not generally make it really easy to pass location information from the inbuilt mobile web browser to an external server for processing.

Google Gears is essentially a plug-in for the mobile browser that enables location information (GPS/Cell-ID) from the handset to be collected in a web session and used in a location aware application like the ones launched by lastminute and Rummble.

With the work going on in the W3C, I would hope that this feature will become standard in future mobile web browsers, but this is a way off yet.

While the first platform to support the geolocation API is windows mobile, I am sure the Google guys are hard at work getting a Symbian (and Andriod) version working.

The power of this approach can not be underestimated, because it provides the end user with a seamless way to report back location.  The smart part though is what to do with the information when reported.

Just knowing you are near Victoria, London as shown by Charles on the video below does lend itself well to applications such as restaurants and buddy finders, but other location enabled applications such as those for location based advertising will need more than just a locale. 

Once we have easy access to location, the next frontier will be zone detection – read more about this in a previous post which was also carried on msearchgroove.com. With zone detection, the ability to micro-target smaller areas (such as cinemas, plazas, coffee shops etc) will become a reality as this cannot be done with location alone.

There are also numerous challenges around location enabling ad inventory, and I would encourage you to read “Mapping out the future of location-based advertising?” where both Russell Buckley and Laura Marriott from the Mobile Marketing Association were asked for their thoughts on location based advertising.

The Gears announcement from Google also reaffirms their commitment to location and is a very good move that will benefit not only the location vendor community, but also the mobile advertising community.

Making location (the capture, processing and use) as simple as SMS for the end user can only help to provide real benefits for the whole mobile advertising ecosystem.

I look forward to my Nokia E71 web browser being Google Gears enabled soon!

You can see Charles demonstrate the m.lasminute.com application below.

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Based in London, Andrew is an internationally renowned thought leader in the field of social business and social media networks. Andrew is a Global Partner with IBM, with a focus on Social Business.



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