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With Google's My Location, Who Needs a GPS?

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Updated: Despite all the hoopla around location-based services, the fact of the matter is that a mere 15 percent of handsets have a built-in Global Positioning System. Given Google’s recent wireless push, one shouldn’t be surprised that Google is releasing an updated version of its Google Maps for Mobile application, which comes with a new service that gives you rudimentary location information without needing a built-in GPS. This new feature is called My Location and is still in the beta phase of its lifecycle. The service will work wherever Google Maps for Mobile is currently available — the U.S., UK, Europe and parts of Asia, for instance.

gmm1.gifWhile not quite high on the accuracy chart, the new application uses information broadcasted from cell towers and triangulates finds your approximate location. (Because of how the application estimates your location, a certain amount of information is sent to Google servers, and if you have privacy concerns, then you can turn the My Location feature off in your maps application.)

Google (GOOG) says the application will put you somewhere in the 500- to 5,000-meter range of where you really are, depending on the cell tower density. From there, you can use the “0” key to get yourself positioned on the map.

A Google spokesperson suggested that the new service works primarily with the newish smart phones. The application is currently compatible with BlackBerry devices, some recent Motorola and Sony Ericsson devices, and many Windows Mobile phone and Nokia Series 60 3rd Edition devices. It’s also fairly easy to install if you have a proper browser on your phone. The new app doesn’t support the iPhone, Motorola Q, Samsung Blackjack and Palm Treo 700w.

I couldn’t get the application to work on my N95, mostly because it kept trying to access the built-in GPS. And when I turned the GPS off, it placed me in London — a city I would like to be in right now, but that is not the case. However, on the older N73 handset, it worked as advertised. The experience on a Blackberry was as good, though I think TeleNav is hands-down a better offering, especially on the newer GPS-enabled BlackBerrys. On the other hand, Google Maps is free.

While Google says the location might not be that precise, putting the accuracy at between 500 and 5,000 meters, in my tests using a 8800 Series Blackberry, the accuracy was close to 97 percent. It showed me half a block away from my apartment, but then I live in an area where cell towers abound. I would love to try this in an area of sparse cellular coverage and see how it performs. The good news is that I can find that out when I do the rounds of Sand Hill Road later today.


Anyway, if you try this application, let me know about your experience.

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132 Responses to “With Google's My Location, Who Needs a GPS?”

  1. Google maps was working properly in my phone… i just format my phone memory & memory card and now it is not showing my current location for last few days and saying “Current location is not available temporarily”… i dont know what know… can anyone help me with that?

  2. The My Location feature is working fine . But being a developer, can anybody tell me how to use the latitude longitude provided by this feature in some other small application.. ? ?

  3. kingsix87

    Today I decided to try it on my Nokia N78. The moment I started it, the program told me the exact building where I was – the GPS didn’t have a lock and the previous location where I used it was some 5km away. Incredible! Google do everything right. Too bad I am not on a data plan and have to pay 0.14 euro/MB

    Do you know how much traffic it generates for 100km navigation for example?

  4. Installed on my Samsung Omnia II GT8000 and works flawlessly. It pinpoints the location, sometimes with surprising accuracy in seconds (way faster than the gps lock on) it also kicks in if gps signal is broken (inside buildings etc)
    Too bag google maps is so data connection intensive =/

  5. I have the Se C905 and it works like a charm. Tonight, my co worker and I were travelling on business and by 830 PM we were starving. We dont know the place and I tried the MYLOCATION feature of my new phone. We typed fuddrockers and aside from finding out that they exist in this area, it also tells you the phone number and it allows you to call them… really cool. Now I dont have a use for the Yellow Pages….

  6. Hi everyone.

    A few days ago, I was surfing the web and I found out a project that works over most mobile phones which lets you know where your friends are in real time and update your status in twitter. It´s called Dimdix.

    On their website they say you don´t need a GPS system to detect your location. Does anyone know how this works?

    I´m using a Motorola L7 and amazingly it detected my location.

    I cannot stop thinking of all the things I could do with it.

    If anyone wants to take a look you can go here

    Thanks,

    Regards,

    Juan

  7. I have a BB8820 and the program works like a charm. I drive for an hour to work and the program plots my location on the dot. As a matter of fact the blue dot is right on my house and even shows that I am located in my bedroom. Is it possible that google maps is using my GPS? If not, the triangulation is very accurate.

  8. I am in Nairobi and wonder whether this system would work here. I also wonder whether it can be developed so that the location of the phone could be found remotely. I do necessarily want to find the phone itself but if it was fixed into a car and wired to the battery so that it doesn’t run out of power, and the car was stolen (as hppens quite a lot here), would I, at some point in the future (after the necessary development) be able to locate my phone (and hence my car) by ringing it?

  9. My year-old comment, which you might see it somewhere before.

    These years I browsed around about the location-based services (LBS). A more detailed explanation of LBS for mobiles can be found by

    http://to.swang.googlepages.com/
    http://to.swang.googlepages.com/lbs

    Most people believe it would be the next big thing or killer app. Quite a few others have different opinion. e.g.,

    http://www.smallsurfaces.com/2008/06/do-we-need-lbs/
    http://www.lewebmobile.com/2008/06/do-humans-really-need-location-based.html

    Here I can possibly present one opinion from the consumer/end-user perspective, which I have posted in some other places too.

    Do we need LBS so badly?

    Before I really go to the details. Let me give a review of one simple concept and theory here, which are called “Home Range Concept” and “Traffic Pattern Theory”.

    Home Range Concept. It is a concept that can be traced back to a publication in 1943 by W. H. Burt, who constructed maps delineating the spatial extent or outside boundary of an animal’s movement during the course of its everyday activities.

    Traffic Pattern Theory. A people’s daily activity pattern is pretty regular, which comprises of several major events, such as school, work, home, shopping.

    As I remember, a technical explanation of traffic pattern theory can be found in a report by Stefan Schonfelder, STRC 2001.

    http://www.strc.ch/schoenfe.pdf

    What happened here is if you are looking at the traffic pattern of a person, saying a full-time employed, 45 years, car, 3-person-household, one child, the regular activity route is so LIMITED. So, does this mean …

  10. Corey James Scribner, how did you get “my location” to work on your Blackjack. No one else seems to be able to run it. Apparently Samsung did a good job of hiding the cell tower info.

  11. Boris: yes! For most of us non-driving people who walk around dense urban ‘chasms’ and spend time indoors, GPS is useless.

    Hopefully My Location will build the rich enough Cell ID dataset to make it worthwhile.

  12. I discovered the “My Location” feature of Google Maps accidentally on my Samsung Blackjack. I installed the Google Maps beta after seeing a link on a standard Google search for a local business on my mobile browser. When I brought up the map app for the first time I was amazed to see it pinpointing the area where I was standing…this shocked me since my mobile device does not have GPS and I wondered if Google had finally decided to add human tracking to their array of applications. After a moment of awe I realized they were using the cell towers and I was comforted to know that big brother GOOG wasn’t tracking me after all :)

    I used this application thoroughly this week from Glendale to Long Beach to San Diego in California. The app proved itself to be a handy reference guide on the major freeways. The feature that really stood out for me in the horrendous Los Angeles gridlock was the “traffic” visibility. Using the “My Location” feature and then clicking “Show Traffic” helped be get around a couple of nasty accidents by using alternative routes.

  13. The service has been tested by Prepaid Earth in Australia on the Telstra and the Optus network. All works very well and Prepaid Earth is happy to say this works well as a prepaid application. Well done Google on another excellent application.

  14. Mohamed Salah

    The application worked fine on my Nokia N80, it showed my house location with an error of 100 or 150 meters located in Cairo, Egypt.

    I wonder why Google didn’t use the triangulation technique.. couldn’t it be more accurate?

  15. Works fine for me on SEK800i in the UK, and loacted me to within 150m of my home at first attempt, indicating that the mylocation functionality does not merely map the location of the serving cellid.I’d love to know where Gogle got hold of the cellid->location lookup- I’m assuming a combination of crowdsourcing and scaping of other available data sources as although drive surveys would give very useful signal strength information you could use to shape the cellid data. My guess is that They’re developing serving cell=>location=>signal strength mappings and refining this information with GPS location data, and this would get better if non-GPS GMM users could train the locating algorythm by moving the ‘my location’ blue spot to their real, known location.