Google Maps locates users without GPS

Summary:The seach giant has released a beta feature of Google Maps for Mobile, which can locate users through triangulation on the cellular network

Google's mapping application for mobile phones is now able to give a user's approximate location without the need for their handset to be GPS-enabled.

Until now, to derive location, the Google Maps for Mobile (GMM) application has needed to access the global positioning system (GPS), which provides location information from satellites. The latest version of GMM is able to locate users — albeit with less accuracy — through triangulation. Triangulation calculates a user's location by measuring the distance of the mobile handset from nearby basestations.

Google's feature, which is called My Location, was released in beta form on Wednesday.

Triangulation is already used by operators to track mobile phones, but Google's decision to embrace the technology brings the same information into the hands of users. Although GPS-enabled phones are becoming more commonplace, most handsets still do not use the technology, and Google is keen to target the burgeoning location-based advertising market.

According to Mike Chu, a Google software engineer, My Location can complement GPS. "My Location kicks in faster than GPS in most cases, so you can access your location even faster on the map," he wrote on Google's mobile blog on Wednesday. "It also works reliably indoors (unlike GPS) and doesn't drain your phone battery at the rate that GPS does."

In the new version of GMM, which is a free application, the user's location is represented by a blue pulsating dot, surrounded by a paler blue circle if the application is uncertain of the location. Location can be refreshed by pressing the zero key. The application is not particularly accurate — it is, on average, 1km off-target — but it replaces the need for the user to type in a location on the phone's keypad.

According to Google, most web-enabled phones are able to use the feature. Java, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Nokia's Symbian devices are supported. Apple's iPhone, however, cannot currently use My Location despite its default inclusion of Google Maps.

Topics: Networking


David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't be paying many bills. His early journalistic career was spent in general news, working behind the scenes for BBC radio and on-air as a newsreader for independent stations. David's main focus is on communications, of both... Full Bio

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.