Google Maps Mobile, the underestimated Google Buzz client

Having released Google Buzz a few days ago and seen the iPhone and Android interfaces which took the GMail-centric UI and simply ported it across to mobile, I was looking for similar integration with my Nokia E71 (S60) device.

I very quickly realised that there wasn’t a new version of the GMail application, but there was a new version of Google Maps. This new version of Google Maps has integration with Google Buzz in the form of a Layer. Once turned on, this layer puts speech bubbles anywhere Buzz has been made. Add to this the fact that Buzz can be associated with places and businesses, this gives an excellent way to provide tips for people to find when they’re travelling.

I have to wonder, with Jyri Engeström having worked on features within Google Buzz, whether this is trying to, in any way build on the concept of the original Jaiku service (not the newer JaikuEngine-based service), where multiple feeds are taken into a single activity stream with location attached. One of my personal main use-cases of Jaiku was for travelling, so I could find people in the area to go for a drink with, and I have been lucky enough to get to know several people from around Finland because of it.

Enable the Buzz layer
Buzz around Cambridge
A location-specific Buzz

I’ve put some screenshots of how I used it on a night in the pub on Saturday.

A pub on Google Maps
Buzz about the pub

Google Latitude Applications

I don’t know how I missed it, but within Google Latitude there are now options for sharing your location with others. Just go to the Google Latitude Applications page and enable the options that suit you. There’s an option to allow your IM contacts to see your location within GTalk (Jabber), and there are also options to get alerts from friends when you’re close, but away from your ‘usual locations’.

One of the more interesting features is the Public Location Badge. Although a possible privacy nightmare, having access to your location in KML and JSON format means that developers can start to utilise location without having develop individual mobile clients that use the GPS. Personally I would like to see the WordPress GeoRSS plugin use it to suggest my location when writing these posts.

I think there’s an additional corner which could be cut if we really opened up, by using the location information stored within the mobile operator’s network to give a rough location, without even having to run an application on the phone at all. This might sound closer to a 1984 scenario than anything before it, but the possibilities of knitting services tightly around the location of it’s users would be an incredibly valuable prospect.

Cost-effective GPS trackers

Having been on a road trip to Lapland in the summer and used a lot of different ways to track my location and share content (I know, I still need to write about it), Both Nicola and I are going to the Ice Hotel in Swedish Lapland for 4 days.

The main issue we had was keeping our mobiles logging our trip. They lost the satellites fairly often (and in the case of my N95 didn’t get much signal to begin with) and of course with GPS turned on constantly they didn’t really last that long on battery. So for this next trip I’ve decided to look at a dedicated device for location tracking.

After looking at Garmin and other devices I found two good possibilities which were around £50:

i-gotU (GT-120 & GT-200)

The site for this device is pretty, and they have some nice software for geotagging photos sending to Flickr/Picasa, although it’s Windows-only. Other than that, it’s pretty hard to find information about the devices, compare the differences in specifications and even to see how many points it can record or how long the battery lasts and how to recharge it.

The device looks really nice though and for the average user it would be a great, small tracker to fit in your pocket. Especially at £45.

GlobalSat DG-100
GlobalSat DG0-100

Not quite as pretty as the i-gotU, but has lots of details about the huge battery life (37 hours at 10 second interval captures) and more status indicators on the front of the device, as well as a hardware interval selector on the side.

Since the shops I looked at didn’t have any i-gotU in stock, and for the known brand of GlobalSat, I decided on the DG-100.

For this trip I’m planning on doing most of my photography using my Canon 350D SLR and Canon MD235 MiniDV camcorder, so there won’t be much live content apart some rare photos from my N95 and some Jaiku updates.

After the trip I’ll make sure to bookmark some time to posting what I used, as well as how they coped in the freezing temperatures.

Google Latitude – Their take on Nokia Friend View

Google Latitude allows users to share their location with their friends using their mobiles.  Powered by Google Maps, Latitude uses the same ‘My Location’ mechanism, so it will show your location to the nearest mile if it can’t get an accurate fix from the device’s GPS.  This also means that Latitude should be able to be used on devices which don’t have in-built GPS, which lowers the barrier to entry for many potential users.

Users can also add an iGoogle widget, which gives the same ‘tracking’ ability directly from the iGoogle homepage.

Quite a while ago, Nokia created Friend View, a very similar application, but focusing on support Nokia devices.  Google’s attempt covers a whole range of devices including S60, Android (of course) and will soon support iPhone, which is sure to raise the profile of the new service above Friend View.

If you have a barcode reader on your phone, you can use the code below to download the application.

Google Latitude


Road-trip Location blogging

I’m going to Finland on Thursday to go on a road trip around Lapland and I’m planning to keep track of my location (and post something online automatically too). I’ll update this post soon with more information about how I do that. At the moment I’m thinking of using the following:

  • Nokia Sports Tracker – This should track my location as well as photos and videos taken along the way… A little more than a ‘sports’ tracker.
  • If I can get my GPS tracker up and running again I’ll use that too.
  • General GPS logger so that I can add the location metadata in post-production.

Create Position Art

Mona Lisa created in Position Art

Nokia’s newest viral marketing is based around the N82 and it’s integrated GPS. Stavros, an artist in Position Art, encourages you to make Position Art of your own by tracking your position using an application such as Nokia Sports Tracker, then share the work of art online.

The idea is fun, and if it gets people out and active then it can only be a good thing. As for the N82, having played briefly with one, it’s a solid device with superb build quality and a good GPS. I would even go as far as saying that it’s a good non-slider alternative to the N95. It may not have the 5MP camera of the N95 (only 3MP) but with a xenon flash the indoor picture quality is higher.

For more information about Stavros and his Position Art initiative visit The World Is My Canvas, and for a look at the viral ad that started it all at the Mobile Web Congress conference go to Stavros’ post on Share on Ovi

Google Maps Mobile for non-GPS phones

The latest enhancement to Google Maps Mobile allows people that don’t have a GPS enabled phone to get approximate location (within 1km) using mobile operator cell locations.

This is a good enhancement, similar to the Network-based and AGPS feature in new S60-based phones and also the offerings from Navizon. The questionable thing here though is, what cell location data is Google using to estimate this? Nokia and Navizon have started their own databases (Navizon includes both Mobile Cells and WiFi APs)… is Google starting another? What are the chances of standardising and creating an ‘open location database’?


(brought to my attention through Lifehacker)

Google Maps gets a native S60v3 version

If you tried the previous Google Mobile Maps application before and have an S60v3 phone, you might want to update to the new native version. It’s got a smoother display and now supports GPS, so all you N95 (or bluetooth GPS) owners can see where you are.

It doesn’t do satnav yet, but it can’t be too long before Google comes up with something to rival the subscription-only navigation of Nokia Maps and Tomtom. The only benefit Nokia Maps currently has (on top of navigation) is that you can download the maps and store them on your phone.

If you’ve got a mobile barcode reader (and if you haven’t, why not get one?), you can use the barcode below to go straight to Google’s download page.

Google Mobile Maps

The iPhone as a GPS/SatNav

You may have seen the latest Steve Jobs WWDC Keynote and iPhone adverts and be wondering about how good it will perform as a GPS device (as you would any modern mobile phone) or for Location Based Services (LBS).

A lot of people are looking forward to the release of the iPhone, and I guess only time will tell as to how it performs, but I can see some things which may backfire with the fully online (or at least that’s what it seems) platform.

  • Steve hasn’t mentioned anything about GPS support within the iPhone, but I don’t see it not having support.
  • Unless there are some sophisticated caching mechanisms, maps are going to be unavailable in areas of low mobile network coverage.
  • Points of Interest appear built into the phone are most probably the normal Google Maps, and possibly not very customisable.
  • Other POIs are capable through the web browser, with AJAX these websites can appear as if they are native applications on the phone, but only through clicking on an address/location of some sort to trigger the Google Maps view of that point.

I hope to be proven wrong, but those are my reservations. If I am proven correct, this would surely be a major issue for anyone (like myself) who uses GPS/GIS in anger. Any ideas?