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

132 thoughts on “With Google's My Location, Who Needs a GPS?”

  1. Let me vent here: why can’t I know from the application if there’s a newer version than the one I have installed available — or from Google the version number of the one available for download? Thanks for doing Google’s work!

  2. So, this capability (cell tower triangulation) is available to all providers and not just Google, right? And this is so, without the permission of the operators, right?

    So, I don’t get how this contributes as a competitive barrier for them?

    p.s. I think it’s cute how Om throws in a few flaws to make his posts about Google and Apple products seem unbiased (as opposed to marketing)

  3. Om,

    Are you sure that this is using triangulation?

    The way the service shows up is to map the coordinates of the cell tower the phone is registered with. It is simple to obtain the cellID with the client on the phone. The CellID is mapped onto a LatLong coordinate by a database lookup and that can be shown on the map. CellID based locations are roughly 1km+ of accuracy. Most urban areas will get you in this range. I am showing up within 1.5 km. In a dense coverage area you will find your location changing even though you are at the same spot, your phone may latch on to different cells. I am showing my location moving from one tower to the other. If it was triangulated with the signal strength, it would have stayed relatively in the same spot.

    You do need GPS for < 50m accuracy. CellID Location is good to get the idea about the vicinity.

    Anecdote – in Asia, the service providers would tie the locality name to the cell-tower. The older generation of phones had the capability to disply the network info on the main screen and the name of the locality would simply show up. So you would simply know your whereabouts. Gmaps are telling the same thing but delivered better visually.

  4. Tried it on Moto Q9h – no go.

    It’s interesting app though. It tells you where you are. What it can’t do is send that location information to somebody’s web server. We have a browser plugin (that is extensible via open API’s) that allows you to add any location data to the outgoing HTTPrequest headers (e.g. http://www.gigaom.com) which your server could then use to offer additional location services.

    The key here is that the location data should be available (at your discretion) to not just Google maps but any other service that wants it.

    BTW everything we’ve done is integrated into the browser – including local search using real time GPS. (More at http://www.5o9inc.com)

    Cheers,

    Peter

  5. Tried this on a BlackBerry Pearl 8100. Downtown of a US West Coast metro. Shows my location accurate to within 50 m at max zoom! At higher zoom levels the accuracy seemed to be 100% (same building block).

    Regarding privacy concerns, this is what Google’s Help says:
    Will Google always know where I am if I use My Location (beta)?

    No. A handset’s approximate location is not saved on our servers or in our logs. Also, all handsets are anonymous, and our system is not aware of repeat visits from the same handset or that an individual handset has traveled from one location to another.

    Source: http://www.google.com/support/mobile/bin/answer.py?answer=81874&topic=12595

  6. I tried it out on my Cingular 8525 and it put me within 3 blocks of my office. Not to shabby. I can see it being useful when you’re trying to get directions from somewhere and either don’t know an exact address or are just too lazy to type it in.

    @talboito: “Google maps for mobile doesn’t do turn-by-turn anyway, so I think its a moot point.”

    Actually it does. It doesn’t automatically change after you’ve turned and there’s no British guy telling you when you screwed up. But it does show each turn and you press arrow buttons to move to the next turn.

  7. Tried it on my SonyEricsson520A.

    Per the Google Maps web site:

    “…you can easily check whether or not My Location (beta)
    is available. Just to go “Help” > “About” from the application.
    If the box contains “myl: N/A,” it means your device isn’t
    reporting a cell…”

    Mine was a N/A…sigh.

    Mapping works fine, however (and is uber-expensive because I have no data plan!).

  8. No dice on my LG CU500v. GMaps Mobile 1.6 worked flawlessly, but trying to launch 2.0 I get: “Invalid class. Can’t launch.”

    Now must figure out how to revert back to 1.6 — or, how about a little 2.1 quick fix, Googlemasters?

  9. I attempted to install this on my SonyEricsson W910i and it completely killed my phone. I’ve never seen anything like it. After install, the phone restarted itself (!) and went into this loop. I pull the battery and try again and restart loop continues. That’s fucked up.

    Arggghh.

    -j

  10. Google is a greedy hype machine, either with android, opensocial or LBS they are all half baked.

    There were lot of high school projects locating based on ip-address or cell tower info. Can some body sue Google for knowingly, point them in wrong direction. Google Maps is good product, there are several solutions like this, infact benefited by keyhole acquisition. Benefits with PR stunts: surge in their stock price, more confidence on google for advertiser and substantiate their position further.

    Om, hope you would voice these opinions and hold them accountable for quality products, when every blogger is drumming to their beat.

  11. Downloaded latest Google maps and tried it. It gave my location about 1/5 a mile off from where I was, but I was pretty impressed on how quickly it identified my location.

    But the main problem with Google maps is you need expensive data connection. It is cheaper to buy a bluetooth GPS antenna and get 10x better accuracy. I wish Google would cache the maps data for the region I usually drive around in – then it may become a little more useful than a mere cute curiosity.

  12. Given how much energy a GPS sensor uses (a lot) and how long it takes to pinpoint your position with GPS (typically a minute, some cellphones need up to 3 minutes) I think this makes a lot of sense.

    In a typical Local Search situation, when I look for a shop or restaurant, I want to have the location NOW. No one will fire up the application, get a position, search and download the map if it takes 2 MINUTES.

    Wonder where google gets the cell tower information from. In Europe at least, this information is kept secret by the MNOs. They charge 10 to 30 cents for a single triangulation.

  13. This is a 19th century technique. I do not know why everyone including Google is making such a BIG DEAL about this – MyLocation. We in INDIA had this facility by default when cellphones first came out in late 1980s. On connection (on call) – between 2 cellphones – both parties could tell their approximate location based on the tower their cell was using to connect to the network. I cannot believe Google is trying to claim this is something they developed….it was being used in backward India, before Google and the BIG names IT houses were even conceived!!!!!

  14. Just installed it on the iMate JasJam (HTC phone) here in New Zealand.
    Worked perfectly – the fact our building has a cell tower on it no doubt helped, but yeah blue dot showed up fine. I’m yet to test it from home where there are fewer cell towers.

  15. this is not triangulation it is the cell tower location. Google has gone through the truck-rolling process and mapped out the cell id location for all carriers. This is an violation of carrier policy, others in europe and US have tried. Only smartphones can access the cell id info without the app being signed by the carrier, otherwise it would work on all phones. when carriers change the cell id name and that would require another truck roll. For example ATT 20056 would be renamed ATT 20465 and wouldnt match up with google database. IF GOOG has done this then it is ABSOLUTELY recreating navteq.

  16. Unless someone actually has tried one of those cool bluetooth devices with GMM, here’s what Google has to say:

    From GMM:

    “…Does Google Maps use GPS to figure out where I am?

    It depends on your mobile provider and device. At this
    time, only Google Maps for Windows Mobile devices (2003
    Second Edition, 5.0 and above), BlackBerry 8800 and Nokia
    95 are enabled with GPS.

    For others, Google Maps doesn’t use any GPS technology,
    even if your phone has a built-in GPS location device…”

  17. I’m in the same boat as Andy Sternberg. I updated my LG CU500 (non-V version) and now I get “Invalid class. Can’t launch.” I quick search shows someone with an LG CU400 has the same issue. It appears the build is broken for the LG CU*00 phones, and there is no way to revert to an earlier version…

  18. As someone who lives in a sparsely populated cell tower area, I can tell you that it varies widely depending on which tower you’ve locked onto. The first try, it got “pretty close” and my location was inside the 1700m circle. Later on, my location was WAY outside the 1700m circle, but at least it was in the general area.

  19. @steven: The move I think about it, the more it IS NOT cell tower trilateration but a single mapping of the tower you are connected to. So Steven I think you are correct. Why ? In the video (timeline 1:51) they say that it gets better the more you use it… I think they are crowdsourcing the mapping of cell tower against user’s who have the GPS chips turned on…

    Just a guess…

  20. @ Steven and others – I think triangulation was a bad choice of words on my part, but I will still check with the guys from Google and post an update. I have already emailed their PR and should be hearing back soon. Apologies for not being clear and explicit about it.

  21. There is the video that explains it all – you guys were right – bad choice of words. It basically seeks the nearest cell tower and finds you on that tower’s footprint. the video – forward to 1.05 to get a video representation of how it works.

  22. just tested on an N73 and worked perfectly. Detected my position within 1800m range, which is pretty acceptable for a cell detection (as it was mentioned before, this is not triangulation, definitely).

    the comment that this someone created something similar before is irrelevant. Yeah, navizon did this for the hacked iphones, and several homebrew applications created something similar before, but still this is a groundbreaking achievement considering it’s from google (thus scalable, reliable, accurate and probably soon international).

    Maps is the least important piece of the puzzle; imagine the limitless possibilities of having search integrated with the approx distance on your cell phone. You could search for restaurants nearby. Or which of your friends (from facebo.. ops, orkut/OpenSocial) are near you.

    Or you may be in the mall looking for that cool new plasma, and want to check on Google products if there’s a better deal within 2 miles from there before signing the check…

    btw, this could be implemented TOMORROW. Without depending on operators willingness to cooperate, expensive over-the-air services, triangulation technologies or any other shit.

    yeah, this IS remarkable.

  23. Does anyone know if this application will work in Australia. The information listed above says ASIA? Also will this work on prepaid mobile devices ( i am sure it will). Looks like a real winner. Preaidearth.com administrator

  24. Tried on N73 in Turku, Finland. The first hit was about 1 km off, but when my phone changed tower it got a bit closer. I am right now indoors with quite thick walls (and some problems with 3G networks), so I am not surprised. Will test this more if/when I need to go outdoors… 🙂

    Very nice, much easier that starting from a world map to find your current position!

  25. I’m very confused about the selection of GMM MyLocation.

    I’m in the UK and GMM shows me over 1700m from my “actual” position and GMM’s MyLocation has no transmitter for any telco (thank you, ofcom: http://www.sitefinder.ofcom.org.uk/).
    And it’s certainly not a calculated triangulation as there are two masts for my telco nearer to me.

    I’d be very interested to hear Google’s explanation!

  26. Unlikely to be their own database like navizon. They wouldn’t do it in Finland, UK, and lots of other places people are reporting here. I tested navizon in several parts of US and some other countries and got erratic results. Usually good in more populated areas, but usually didn’t get a lock on more remote cities/streets..

    Assuming that operators are certainly not providing this information, I’d say that it’s more likely they used the IP address, just like any IP geo-coding available for dial-up/broadband.

  27. Who needs GPS? Of course me! and all the others who bought the GPS gadget months ago before your blog entry or the Google my location came out.

    Now the question is… who needs Google Location if people already owned GPS? and missed to read your informative blog?

  28. Yahoo did this years ago with their ZoneTag application — crowd-sourced the tower IDs — and made it available this year to developers via web service API. Kudos to Google for pushing it forward, but cell ID has been around for at least 10 years and due to its inaccuracy was blamed for a lot of the previous disillusionment with LBS circa ’98.

    It is in no way shape or form a substitute for GPS (nor is it intended to be), but instead could be a carrier-free way to provide assistance data to supplement autonomous GPS handsets like the N95 and 8820 on AT&T (until they get assistance infrastructure up and running). With the GMM installed base, this could actually work as a fall-back for local search, particularly in dense urban areas with lots of towers.

  29. 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.

  30. 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?

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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 …

  36. 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?

  37. 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.

  38. 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

  39. 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….

  40. 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 =/

  41. 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?

  42. 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.. ? ?

  43. 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?

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