Is Google about to release an API for location?

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(Update 31/5/08): TechCrunch’s Nik Cubrilovic has now taken up this baton and run with it: Google To Launch Large Scale Geo-Services


Is Google poised to release an API for geo-location, based on it’s magical My Location feature in Google Maps for mobile? Could be.

Something called the “Geolocation API” has appeared on this list for Google Gears code. And code for geo-location has appeared here.

The “GeolocationAPI” is described thus: “Provides the geolocation of a device running a Gears-enabled web browser.” Here it is in the specific code for Gears.

Now I’m no expert but inside this code are a number of references to “cell_towers”, “cell_id”, and “wifi_towers”. Further down there are fascinating definitions of the terms, such as “timing_advance: Represents the distance from the cell tower. Each unit is roughly 550 meters.”

In other words, it looks like Google is going to allow third party developers to make use of its geolocation API.

That would be a significant move, and one which would throw a number of mobile operators into disarray, since location is one of the few golden eggs they have left, as the world moves to VOIP and data.

I asked Google (in the UK) to comment. A spokesperson said “We think location is an important aspect of mobile applications, and we’ve been thrilled with the usefulness of My Location in Google Maps for mobile, but we have nothing to announce at this time.”

So there’s no official word on the move but this discussion on a list, lodged today, says: “Google would like to volunteer some resources to work on a specification to provide a Geolocation API for the Web platform.” This may or may not be related.

Now, I’m not sure if the API is live or working right now, or if it’s just lying latent in the code for implementation later. It may well be the latter.

  • grant

    Not going to happen, despite the fact that you are a uk tax payer and you have paid for the creation of the postcode database, post office still charges a fortune to give access to post code data and the proviso of having it- is that you cannot give other parties access to it.

    I think that the reason postcode and location based services will never take off in this country is because of the post offices stranglehold on the post code database. unless you are willing to pay pence per lookup, you are going to have a whole lotta expense in getting something working.

  • Mike Butcher

    Grant – I think what we’re talking about here s geo-location based on mobile cell-tower IDs, not postcodes.

  • Steve E

    That’s pretty cool! I can think of lot’s of interesting apps which will surface if this does happen!

  • Richard T

    Dion Almaer mentioned this at the Adobe on Air roadshow in London a few months ago. I understood gears to just be the offline storage that it is best known for but apparently it is meant to be a suite of tools that effectively extend the web browser. Storage and the location API being just a couple of those tools. They also currently have a WorkerPool in gears as well, this allows you to run long-running tasks asynchronously in the browser.

  • Jamie

    There is a similar API available in the iPhone SDK, called CoreLocation. Its available for all developers to use in their application and is how FlickrExport Touch geotags photos taken on the iPhone before sending to Flickr.

    CoreLocation triangulates using cell towers and WiFi and has room to include GPS if the iPhone 2 includes it.

  • jonmul

    Wow. Great find Mike, if this is true this would be a huge development, although I’m not sure how long this will take to dawn on mobile operators.

    ‘Ownership’ of user location is one of the few valuable things mobile telcos have left to differentiate themselves. It’s the key to being able to create services that actually create value for consumers, fundamental to the evolution of the mobile industry.

    This would be great for Google, but really disruptive to mobile operators…

  • Peter Cranstone

    This could be very good news. We have an API that allows Blackberry and Windows Mobile developers to access the GPS on the mobile device and then make that information available inside the browser.

    This enables real time location (GPS) based search from inside the browser.


    5o9 Inc

  • AJ

    Hey Mike,

    I spoke to a Googler at a conference a few months back who hinted towards (or at least didn’t deny) a mobile location API. I think they might be moving towards providing a location based adsense for mobile apps. They are already doing location specific adwords on the mobile search engine right? Very excited about this!


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