With all the hype surrounding the iPhone, those things that are both ‘mobile’ and ‘Web’ are finally getting a solid play in the minds of more mainstream users. But the hardest problem that developers and companies are running in to is how to get the mobile web into something that is relevant enough that it can can catch on with the casual user.
SMS has been the most successful step so far. Not so much because it is the ‘Web’ in the sense of going to a browser to get information, but in the sense that, like the Web, SMS has proved as a solid doorway into getting people at least a piece of the mobile Internet. Granted, with data pricing taking the fun out of mobile Web surfing for many users, using SMS as a doorway can only go so far.
Mobile Mapping Goes Mainstream
Location-based services were heralded to be the big thing this year, and if you look at the number of mobile devices that have shipped with some sort of GPS ability, you’ll have to agree that it has gone mainstream. If you look more at the price and variety of GPS equipment, you’d have to agree even more. There’s something about knowing where you are going that has been an attractive purchase for many people. Still, the number of GPS users is not very many compared to the bevy of SMS users.
Recently, Google released version 2.0 of its Google Maps Mobile application. Contained in this update is a new feature called My Location that uses cellular tower identification as a means to let a user know where they are (within about 1700 m or a little over a mile). If you are in an area with more cellular towers, this is something that can be extremely accurate, and therefore helpful when in a place that you’re not familiar with.
As I looked at the reaction to this new feature, I realized that Google gets it when it comes to crafting a relevant mobile web. Relevant for non-techies, I mean.
Google Maps Mobile now works like GPS, except it is free (aside from the data plan costs). It’s software that sits on a mobile phone — a device people regard as personal enough to keep on them nearly all the time. And finally, it’s simple to use — see the ‘blue dot’ and there you are.
For non-techie users of mobile technology, it really does not get much simpler than that. And if you want to make something widely accepted, you either make it exclusive, or dead-on simple.
By releasing Google Maps Mobile with the My Location feature, Google is taking a bet that more people want a non-GPS-powered mapping solution. They are also betting that people will use it enough on their mobiles that they would be willing to add some kind of data package to their mobile phones, thereby winning some carrier support. Its nearly a win-win for all parties. And in the case of relevant technology, situations where there are winners get the most players.