Review of Google Local for Mobile
By Charlene Li
I invited my colleague, Charlie Golvin, to write a review of Google Local for Mobile because: 1) Charlie's the Forrester consumer wireless analyst; and 2) I have a Blackberry which isn't supported by the new service. As you'll see below, Charlie has access to *many* different types of phones! Hope you enjoy his perspective.
Google released its Google Local for Mobile application today. It’s a Java app that brings much of the functionality of Google Local to the mobile phone, adapted for the small screen environment in mostly the clever way that you would expect from those wicked smaht folks. To download the app you can either navigate on your phone’s browser to http://google.com/glm and answer the questions the site poses to you regarding carrier, phone maker, and phone model, or you can use your desktop browser to answer the same set of questions and have Google send your phone an SMS with the link to the right version of the app (provided you don’t mind giving Google your phone number, just like you didn’t as a latecomer to Gmail). If you’re on a network like Verizon, Alltel, or US Cellular that uses BREW applications, you’re out of luck — presumably because this free app doesn’t make it worthwhile for Google to pay Qualcomm, and because Google doesn’t want to go through the carriers but prefers to distribute directly. So, if you’re a Cingular, T-mobile, or Sprint subscriber, have at it.
I actually played with GLM on three different phones — a Motorola ROKR, a Nokia 7610, and a Samsung SPH-A940, only the first of which is listed as supported by Google. For the Nokia I chose a version for another Series 60 phone (the 6620) and the Samsung auto-detected as a slightly older model. In both of these cases there were a few small anomalies that were annoying but far from rendered the app unusable. By far the best features were the automatic click-to-dial associated with any search result, and the driving directions. Each step in the directions is rendered on the map as a text box pointing on the map to your point along your journey, you press the ‘3’ key to advance to the next step and ‘1’ for the previous.
For those who have already become used to the SMS interface to Google Local, this app is unlikely to alter your behavior in areas you know well. However, when traveling out of your comfort zone you will likely prefer the Java app primarily for the mapping feature. My main criticism is that the satellite imagery serves no useful purpose on such low resolution displays, and only serves to drive up network usage while degrading performance — stick with the maps.
While the carriers may bemoan the fact that Google is taking traffic from their own yellow pages and directory information services, in truth this is a very good thing for them. The familiar Google interface as a simple extension of the desktop experience will drive users to consume more data on their phones, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean revenue for carriers like Sprint who price data flat, it means that consumers are shifting their behavior from voice to voice and data -- which is the most significant impediment to the adoption of other data services today.