Since Apple doesn’t provide detailed release notes with each of their beta installments, it’s understandable that details about less obvious features and changes would only come to light gradually, as people poked around and tried different (and sometimes unusual) things with their devices. Computerworld’s Seth Weintraub was fooling around with the Mobile Safari browser included with the latest firmware update (3.0b5), and discovered that it has become a touch more self-aware since last we checked.
In fact, the new version of Safari has been quietly updated to tap into the iPhone’s geolocation abilities so that it can deliver location information should a web site request it. Weintraub tested the new feature using a web page designed by Doug Turner to test Mozilla’s upcoming geolocation API (which is built into the latest beta builds of Firefox, by the way). Visiting the site brings up the familiar location services permission request dialog box that opens when using other third-party apps and Google Maps.
Once Safari receives approval, the individual site you’re visiting also needs authorization, which is great for security purposes. As soon as everything is approved, the site displays coordinate data relevant to your current location. Not fancy, but a promising taste of what’s to come. Geolocation is part of the W3 consortium’s web standard, though the specification isn’t finalized yet, and it should see inclusion in the next generation of every major browser, which means web developers should start incorporating it regularly soon enough.
There are already plans from one major player to use it in a web app. Google announced last week their plans to release Latitude, their location broadcasting service, as a web app for the iPhone platform (it’s already a native app for Symbian, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Android). iPhone and iPod touch owners will be able to visit the Latitude URL in Safari, which will ask for and use their location information to make their position available to other contacts using the app, on any platform. The disadvantage, of course, is that closing Safari will end your location broadcast, and your ability to see the location of others, but this would’ve been true with a native app, too.
Google’s Latitude implementation is impressive, but more practical and generally useful applications of browser geolocation come to mind. How about never asking me for my zip code again when it comes to searching for stuff in my immediate area? Or tourism sites that generate location-specific content automatically upon each visit depending on where in the world you are? Combined with the rumored magnometer that’s meant to appear in the next new iPhone hardware, Safari geolocation could revolutionize the way we use the mobile web.