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