Google Maps Adds GPS Tracking To Mobile Phones

Ryan Dube 28-12-2008

google maps gps trackingMany people who purchase a PDA or cell phone loaded with the Mobile Windows operating system often opt for phone features other than GPS functionality. When I bought my Cingular Smartphone a couple of years ago, I thought a 1.3 megapixel camera would be the coolest thing.


However, I never found any opportunity when I really needed a low-resolution digital camera, but I found myself in countless situations where I really could have used a phone with the global positioning feature.

Google’s mobile version of Google Maps has always offered the ability for mobile phone users to call up Google Maps to view the map of a particular location or search for driving directions. Later, Google added the ability for users who had a GPS-enabled phone or Smartphone to locate their current location through satellite triangulation.

This is a very cool feature of Google Maps, and one that sets it above most other free mobile mapping applications. However, since such a small percentage of Google Mobile users actually own a GPS-enabled phone, Google decided to add GPS Tracking to Google Maps. It’s an amazing technology that offers any cellphone user, regardless of GPS functionality, the ability to zero in on your current location. Google Maps does this the moment you start up the application on your cellphone, as shown here on my Cingular Smartphone.

google maps gps mobile

That little blue dot in the middle of the map is the magical location icon that represents your current location. If you have GPS on your mobile, the Google Maps accuracy is phenomenal. If you don’t have GPS on your phone, Google triangulates your position using the three closest cell towers. There are both pros and cons to using this approach in order to identify your current location. The only con is that the accuracy of GPS is usually within only a couple hundred feet. The accuracy of Google’s new “My Location” features can range as wide as 5000 meters. The pros, however, are:

  • “My Location” works faster than GPS, since cell towers are quicker to access than GPS satellites.
  • The positioning feature works anywhere your phone can reach a cellphone signal, including indoors.
  • Unlike when you use GPS, your phone’s battery will not drain any faster than normal.

Use Google Maps Mobile to Plan Your Trip

The feature of Google Maps that I personally use the most is the Satellite View. In this mode, Google Maps switches to the popular Google satellite imaging feature, where the map is replaced with a real satellite image of your location (dated back a few weeks or months.) My next order of business was to switch to Satellite View and then map out some directions.

google maps gps

Here you can see the amazing clarity of the satellite view. The menu items show all of the things that you can do with Mobile Maps, including mapping out driving, walking, or transit directions, showing local traffic patterns (if you live in or near a city), using GPS, marking favorite locations, and even options like locating the map for any address listed in your phone’s contact list. My next step was to determine directions and distance for me to drive from Southern Maine to Los Angeles, California.

Walking Directions


Look at that, only 3,077 miles, and just under 48 driving hours. The resulting directions are straightforward; and if you’re confused, you can just click on any one of the steps, and Google Maps presents that portion of the route for you, in either satellite view or map view.

google maps gps navigation

The route display is highlighted on the map, just like you would highlight your own paper atlas when you plan for a long road trip. As shown in this map, Google Maps sticks to the major roads and highways, and attempts to identify the fastest and most direct driving route for you.  No more spending hours pouring over maps the night before a trip.  With the click of a button on your Smartphone, Google does all of the planning and routing for you.

Instant My Location Updates at the Touch of a Button

If you drive for a few hours and want to determine where you are, just open up Google Maps and press 0, or click on the little magic blue ball at the lower right corner of the displayed map. Google Maps performs its cellphone tower triangulation magic, and you’re instantly swept to the map that shows your current location. It’s like having your own personal navigator and mapping system right on your cellphone. Who needs a GPS unit now?


Related topics: Google Maps, GPS, Maps, Windows Mobile.

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  1. Alex
    December 6, 2009 at 1:02 am

    I love google earth, really powerfull. So I decided to reseach a little and mobile phone tracking. Thanks!

  2. boopalan
    May 20, 2009 at 5:41 am

    Hai Super

  3. kavita
    May 5, 2009 at 7:51 am

    nice very nice

  4. Ryan Dube
    December 30, 2008 at 10:28 am

    hc - that would be a cool feature. If you consider all of the potential uses for the cell tower triangulation technology, there are a lot of niche products that the creative programmer could offer the cellphone community.

  5. hc
    December 29, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Speaking of camera, maybe they'll also put in a geotag feature for adding latitude and longitude to photos taken with the phone. Then others could drop the photos in google maps on their desktop and see where you've been.

  6. Aseem
    December 28, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    Even though it can work without GPS, it required at least A-GPS (Assisted GPS) in your phone which uses cell tower triangulation instead of satellite triangulation. If your phone does not have any (GPS or A-GPS), the above cannot work.

  7. Evan
    December 28, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    I've been using Google Maps on my Windows Mobile smartphone for about a month now, and it's great! My phone goes have GPS, so the accuracy is great and it's bailed me out a few times when trying to find places. The drawback is that the phone screen is tiny and the user interface uses various buttons on your phone, so it is difficult to use while driving. For heavy use, I'd still recommend a traditional GPS for your car, but for occasional use this is the perfect solution.