Google's New Geolocation API for Gears

Late last week Google announced the release of a new Geolocation API for its Google Gears browser extension (our new Gears Geolocation API Profile). According to Google:

The Gears Geolocation API provides a way to get a more precise estimate of a user's location. On mobile devices with Gears installed, the Geolocation API can use the cell-ID of nearby cell towers or on-board GPS (if either is available) to improve the postion fix. In the near future, we'll be adding data from your WiFi connection to improve accuracy even further, on both desktop and mobile. In all cases, Gears takes care of assimilating the results from each source and returning the best available position estimate.

Several factors make this new API quite newsworthy:

  • The API only works with mobile devices running Windows Mobile, the very operating system Google is likely attempting to take on with its upcoming release of Android.
  • No GPS is required. The API can use nearby cell phone towers, GPS, and/or WiFi connectivity (expected in future releases) to determine a user's location (with varying degrees of accuracy).
  • The new Geolocation API seems to be Google's first move towards providing a similar service to Yahoo!'s Fire Eagle geolocation service (which recently went public).
  • As it is part of the Gears offering, the API is open source.

As with Fire Eagle, user privacy is a significant concern, and Google has addressed this concern by implementing the same security measures as other Google Gears APIs:

The privacy of users' location information is extremely important. The first time your site calls the Geolocation API to request a user's location, that user will be shown a permissions dialog where they can choose to allow or deny your site access.

You can check out two mobile applications developed with this API, including Rummble (a place-based social recommendation service) and a restaurant finder for the UK on

The Javascript-based API does require users to download the Google Gears extension (if they haven't already), and the API may not gain widespread adoption until Google Gears is supported on a broader basis (i.e., non-Windows Mobile devices). However, this is an interesting move by Google, and by releasing the API as part of Gears, Google has provided yet another API to an existing developer base.

ReadWriteWeb, VentureBeat, CNET, and TechCrunch have additional good coverage and opinions on the API.

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: 3 Top Data Formats for Map Mashups: KML, GeoRSS and GeoJSON


Comments (2)

[...] in major desktop browsers in hundreds of cities around the world. We originally covered the GeoLocation API back in August, when Google first announced the release of the API for use in mobile devices to get a more precise [...]


At the beginning, Google Geolocation API has determined the location for only Americans, for the other it has returned "unknown". Later this service was advanced, but it often does not show results even for developed countries as yet. For such cases, there is a simple javascript extension to the Google API, which gives back the country of user.