As you may already know, one of the improvements that came along with iPhone 3.0 was mobile Safari’s ability to access the iPhone and iPod touch’s geolocation services. Geolocation is quickly becoming a feature that more and more web developers are looking at implementing, especially given that the recently released Firefox 3.5 and Chrome 2.0 support it. It boggles my mind how far we’ve come from the days of avatars and handles, when only a rare few ever shared their real name and photo online, let alone their actual, real-time location.
King of the Internet that it is, Google is spearheading the implementation of location services on the web. It recently introduced location support in Google Maps for Firefox and Chrome users, which works pretty much like the Maps app on your iPhone or Android device does, albeit using Wi-Fi signal towers for most computer users (who don’t likely have GPS capabilities in their machines), so it’s more comparable to the iPod touch. As of yesterday, Google’s mobile search site also supports geolocation, which works perfectly with the latest version of Safari for the iPhone.
Once you grant Safari (and Google.com) access to your device’s location, you’ll see a little blue dot on the main search page, with your location spelled out next to it. When you change locations, you’ll have to manually update by clicking a link next to that, but if you tend to stay in one place like myself, Google seems to be content to remember your choice for quite some time, so you won’t have to find yourself each time you visit.
Searching for things like restaurants, maps or directions, will then bring up results relevant to where you are. Even though the stated location doesn’t seem to be any more specific than the city you’re in, I found that a search for “closest grocery store” actually came up with results in my immediate area, although it did miss the one right across the street from me, so that could just be because I live downtown.
Still, it’s very handy to have Google be even broadly aware of where you are in the world when returning search results. Especially in a mobile device, which you generally use when you’re out and about, and therefore in need of on-the-spot directions and info about local amenities and services. Hopefully where Google has gone, others will follow, and we’ll see geolocation built-in to many more web apps and services. I would love to see some corporate websites like Best Buy work it into its retail store finder pages, but considering the rate at which retail chains usually implement new tech, I’m not holding my breath.