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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Google Maps With My Location, a service for mobile users

Google Service Uses Cell Towers to Locate Users

Google Maps With My Location, a service for mobile users that doesn't rely on GPS, is now in use by Google.

Google launched a location service for mobile users on Wednesday that doesn't rely on GPS.

Google Maps with My Location, currently in beta, locates users who don't have GPS-enabled phones based on their location to nearby cell towers. The result isn't as accurate as GPS (Global Positioning System) but works for people who lack the positioning technology in their phones.

"It helps users speed up search by showing the general neighborhood they're in," said Steve Lee, product manager at Google for the service. Without the location service, users must type in their address or neighborhood in order to find nearby businesses using Google Maps.

Google Maps with My Location will use GPS data to locate the user if the phone has the capability. But even for users of GPS-enabled phones, the cell location service might be useful, Lee said. That's because the cell tower feature works better indoors than GPS, it doesn't drain the phone battery as quickly and can bring up a result quicker, he said.

The service could be useful to a person who might be traveling in an unfamiliar city and looking for restaurants or other businesses. A user pulls up Google Maps and hits the zero key on the phone. A blue dot will appear on the map in the user's location. If the service used GPS in the phone, the blue dot will be solid. If the service used cell towers to determine the location, the blue dot will have a halo around it, indicating that the location isn't precise. The user can then search for nearby businesses.

Google says the cell tower technique will locate the user within about 1000 meters. It doesn't use triangulation, which calculates a user location based on the user's distance to three nearby towers. Instead, it essentially shows the range of the tower that the user's phone is connecting to.

But the accuracy should improve as more people use the service, Lee said. That's because Google is keeping a database of location queries, minus any personal information like individual phone numbers or names. That will allow Google to learn more precise information about the range of each tower, so that it can deliver a more accurate location area to users. The coverage area of cell towers can vary from about a quarter of a mile to several miles based on whether the tower is in an urban or rural area.

For now, Google Maps with My Location doesn't feature any advertising, but it could in the future. "This product makes a lot of sense for advertising," Lee said.

In order to use the service, phone owners must download a free application from Google. The application will work on BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian phones as well as many phones that support Java. A few notable exceptions include the Samsung Blackjack, Moto Q and Palm Treo 700W, which don't support the APIs (application programming interfaces) Google requires to find cell towers, Lee said.

Google Maps with My Location (beta)

See your location on the map, with or without GPS. Save time and tedious keystrokes finding where you are, what's around you, and how to get there. Watch the video on the right to see how it works.

Press "0" and look for the blue dot or

If you have a GPS-enabled device, this blue dot corresponds to your GPS location. At times, or if you do not have a GPS-enabled phone, you might see the blue dot surrounded by a light blue circle (as shown on the right) to indicate uncertainty about your location.

Why the uncertainty? The My Location feature takes information broadcast from mobile towers near you to approximate your current location on the map - it's not GPS, but it comes pretty close (approximately 1000m close, on average). We're still in beta, but we're excited to launch this feature and are constantly working to improve our coverage and accuracy.

The My Location feature is available for most web-enabled mobile phones, including Java, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Nokia/Symbian devices.

Get more info on the My Location feature and supported devices, or discuss Google Maps and My Location with other users.

Google announces new 'My Location' service for Google Maps Mobile - find yourself without GPS

Maps are great if you know exactly where you’re currently located, but what good are they when you’re completely lost? Navizon is a great solution to help locate your approximate position based on cell-tower signal triangulation (we’ve been using on our iPhones with great results for some time now), and now Google is treading all over their turf. With Google’s announcement of their new “My Location” service on compatible phones with Google Maps for Mobile marks the launch of a public test of the new faux-GPS position location feature.

Google says they’ve compiled a database of cell-tower locations through previous Google Maps users, and has employed some “algorithms” (we call them “triangulation equations”) to quickly give Google Maps for Mobile users a fairly accurate lock of their current position. By simply pressing ‘0′ on your keypad, the service can pinpoint locations to within several meters in optimal condition - presumably with at least three cell-towers in range. The “My Location” service is available for free to anyone with Google Maps for Mobile and a compatible cellphone - its in open beta testing, but is available to most BlackBerry, S60, and Windows Mobile users.

Users with integrated GPS receivers can use the new “My Location” service for Google Maps Mobile to complement their satellite position-fix when buildings or mountains obscure the line-of-sight required for a GPS signal-lock. Head on over to Google’s download page to find out if your phone is compatible with the upgrade.

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