Via Om Malik, Google has released another upgrade to Google Maps for Mobile, which in addition to GPS support, can now show users without GPS their location. As Google notes, it doesn’t have the accuracy of GPS, but it’s free, and it’s likely to be good enough to be useful in many cases. A quick check just now showed fairly decent accuracy, with the app claiming it was within 1700m, though it appears quite a bit better than that.
This is sure to set off people concerned about privacy, since it adds location to the vast trove of information Google has about its users (though the feature can be disabled in the application). But the implications for Google services are a little bigger. Sure, there’s direction-finding, though I think that may not be the most important use case in this context.
Now Google has a real vehicle for local search. Instead of crudely SMSing “pizza 89135” to Google to find a pizza joint around here, now I fire up the app, find my location, then search for pizza — and it brings up a map showing me where these places are. (See the second pic)
That’s a far better experience, and it also doesn’t rely on my having any idea of where I am. For instance, I know my own zip code, but I don’t know its boundaries, nor do I know any others here in Vegas. So if I’m out looking for something, I’ve got little idea where to start. That’s the big problem with local search — we tend to spend a lot of our time in the same places, and we get to know them. We’re most likely to use search when we’re in an unfamiliar area — but often our unfamiliarity with the area precludes us from even being able to divine a starting point for our search. You don’t necessarily need GPS to get a starting point, as this new feature highlights.
I continue to be slightly amazed at the speed with which Google gets these apps and services out, and the overall quality of them, though I guess it’s a testament to the amount of resources they’re throwing at mobile these days.
Here’s a video explaining how My Location works:
Two really minor quibbles: I had to learn about this update from a blog, rather than from the software itself. Opera Mini recently let me know that there was a new version out, and gave me the chance to upgrade, and it’s one of the few mobile apps I’ve seen do that. Also, it would still be great to have support for the My Maps feature in the mobile client. Perhaps in the next version!