Internet search giant Google introduces its first downloadable cellphone application on Monday, bringing its acclaimed map technology to phones.
With Google Local for mobile devices, users can get colorful, overhead views of a neighborhood and even check a hotel listing to see how close it is to the beach. Unlike most new cellphone offerings that work on only a handful of phones, Google's application can be used on more than 100 current phones that use the Java Brew programming language.
That includes models from Cingular, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. Verizon's phones use a different programming language, as do BlackBerrys and Palm devices, so they are not compatible.
Google's application and service is free, but users will need an Internet data plan from their cellphone provider, which adds $10 to $25 to monthly bills.
To test the service, Google lent Sprint's MM-A800 by Samsung ($179, with contract) to reviewers. But Sprint says many models work with the program - including the free (with contract) V1660 by Samsung. Check www.google.com/glm to see whether your phone is on the list.
"We know local information is a big deal for our users," says Deep Nishar, Google's director of product management.
Google's search engine is currently available to cellphone users with an Internet data plan, but this is the first time Google has added graphics in a separate application to wireless devices. "Text results for a search are fine, but sometimes you need to use a map to orient yourself," Nishar says.
Yahoo has a competing search and map program for mobile phones, heavy on text and light on graphics. For most consumers, that's just fine, says Chris Sherman, the editor of the SearchDay blog.
Google's Local for mobile is "one of the slickest applications to come to cellphones," Sherman says. "It's nice to have, especially if you're in a new city and don't know where you're going. But otherwise, I'd probably just stick with the text."
Using Google's local application on a mobile phone is a good deal more complicated than on the Web, unless you have a phone with a traditional qwerty keyboard. Users must switch a phone's numeric keyboard into letter mode and find the button on the phone that doubles as the "enter" button. That takes time to get used to.
Google's program, like most local wireless applications, is ad-free. Greg Sterling, an analyst for researcher Kelsey Group, sees wireless local applications reaping $386 million in advertising by 2009, vs. practically nothing today.