Google Launches Local for Mobile

Google’s new Local for mobile service is a stripped-down version of the Web-based Google Local. It puts a heavy emphasis on maps and driving directions.

The new service allows you to search for specific addresses, businesses, or business categories in the United States. Unlike the Web-based Google Local service, results are minimal, featuring maps or satellite imagery. Information about individual businesses is limited to address and phone number, with an option to call the business by clicking a link.

Any locations you enter are stored. Up to 20 recent locations are accessible by scrolling and clicking the “OK” or other confirmation button on your phone. Google doesn’t store information that can identify you personally but does associate a unique identifying number with your phone. See Google’s privacy policy for more information.

To get driving directions, simply enter a start and end location, and your route is plotted on a map. From your starting point, pressing the “next” key scrolls the map and pops up each direction in turn along the route. This makes it easy to follow directions, even if you’re using your phone in your car.

Since this is service is oriented to local users, point-to-point directions are limited to places within a certain number miles of one another. If you want directions between cities that are farther away, you’ll need to use the Web-based service.

Using menu options, you can move the map around, zoom in or out, or view a satellite photo of the mapped area. There is no hybrid view combining maps with satellite images, like you’ll find on the Web version of Google Local.

Google Local for mobile is free, though there are a few additional requirements to use the service. Your phone must be Java-enabled (J2ME), and you must have access to a data plan from your mobile service provider. Google recommends subscribing to an unlimited data plan if you want to use Google Local for mobile on a regular basis to avoid being charged for each use of the service.

The service doesn’t work with non-Java-enabled phones, even those equipped with a WAP (define) browser. It also doesn’t support phones enabled with BREW (define), such as those used by Verizon, nor does it support Blackberry or Palm devices. Google says that over 50 percent of all mobile phones sold in the U.S. today are Java enabled, representing the largest user base of mobile users.

If you already have a Java-enabled phone and unlimited data plan, Google Local for mobile is an appealing service. Like all mobile phone apps, it takes a bit of fiddling with the interface to get the results you expect.

If you don’t have a Java-enabled phone or prefer the more detailed company information pages and access to Web search results offered by the Web-based version, there’s little reason to rush out and buy a phone that can take advantage of the service. It’s useful in a limited way, but I expect better things in the future as mobile technology improves and Google is able to extend the number of features it can offer via a mobile device.

More information about the service, including download instructions and answers to frequently asked questions can be found at google.com/glm, accessible either via computer or Web-enabled mobile phone.

Meet Chris at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago, December 5-8, 2005.

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