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Google Maps locates users without GPS

The seach giant has released a beta feature of Google Maps for Mobile, which can locate users through triangulation on the cellular network
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

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.

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