Google’s Faux GPS Service on iPhone

My Location is the latest feature in Google’s Maps service which lets mobile phone users determine their location based solely upon cell towers, no GPS required. The new beta service is built right into Google Maps for Mobile but has yet to be introduced on the iPhone. However, thanks to the growing population of underground iPhone applications, I was able to give the service a try on my iPhone before its official release by Apple.

I used an application called iLocation, developed by Chris Miles, to access the My Location service which Google provides. Currently the developer has made this application private. The way it works is very simple. When the application is launched you’re presented with a “Locating” screen. In the background, iLocation gathers cellular tower information from your iPhone and sends it off to Google. Google then returns latitude and longitude information to iLocation which is then sent to the Maps application and plotted.

So how well does it work? In my testing I wasn’t able to get very good accuracy. Google says that My Location is generally accurate up to 1000m, which is about as close as I was able to get in my tests. The application’s developer has been able to get much better results, stating that “I’ve used my program quite a bit around my area as I’m driving and have found Google’s DB pretty accurate”. It seems that, just as you might expect, the service depends largely upon data collected in the area as well as tower reception. The better the reception, the greater the accuracy. Google also says that the service gets better as you use it. It’s also worth noting that this is a beta product and will likely be enhanced before it comes out of beta.

The service, while handy, obviously doesn’t stack up to GPS, but it’s certainly a start. The application is currently private until Google releases a public API for the service, which may take longer than it takes Apple to release it on the iPhone. Contrary to the application’s developer, I feel that the service isn’t useful enough for Apple to implement it in Maps just yet. It seems more likely that the information would be used indirectly for queries which would benefit from location awareness. An example would be searching for “seafood” and having iPhone find restaurants in your area based on the My Location data. Anything more in most suburban areas seems too inaccurate.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. iPhone version 1.1.3 is rumored to be on it’s way, right?

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