Google updated their mobile web based local search yesterday. There are a number of enhancements that combined could potentially make it my new favorite local mobile search engine. Here's what's new:
- Location enabled - Google local on Android and the iPhone have been location aware for a while, now location support has been sort of extended to all platforms. How is that possible given that only Android, the iPhone, BlackBerries and Windows Mobile devices with Gears installed support sharing your location with browser based services? Google's not saying but it seems to be tied to your Google account. I've granted Google permission to use my location on my Android phone. When I log into Google Local in the Nokia browser or Opera Mini on my N95, my Android phone's location is displayed and used as the default starting point for local searches on the N95. If I had Google Latitude running on the N95, I wonder if Google would use my L attitude location? You can also manually enter your location.
- Category Browse - Below the search box, Google Local now displays a series of categories; Restaurants, Shopping, ATMs, Banks etc.. Click a category to see relevant nearby business.
- Starred Places. You can click a star icon in desktop Google Maps results to tag a business or address as a favorite. Your Starred Places show up as your first category on the mobile local site for easy access.
Other features of Google local for mobile that are retained from previous versions include zoomable maps, driving directions, user reviews and links to business' web sites.
I said at the start that the new features could make Google my new preferred local search site. It's great to not have to type in your location, the categories are handy and save even more typing and the Stared Places provide an easy way to share locations between desktop maps and local.
Unfortunately, in spite of these great features I found the new Google Local site less useful than it could be. The biggest problem is that results can't be sorted by distance. This makes the them far less usable then they could be. For example the Japanese Restaurants category's top result was a place four miles away, with an excellent one only a mile away buried on the third page. With Google able to locate your phone precisely it would make sense to have an option to see the closest businesses first in results.
I also had a strange problem with a specific search for a car dealer, "Mini of San Francisco", which is San Francisco's only Mini dealer. A explicit search using the name of the business failed to return any results! I had to use Google Web search to find the address and retype it into Local! If a business' site is indexed by Web search shouldn't it also appear in local?
In comparison, both Bing and Local.com's mobile search results are sorted by distance and both found the Mini dealer with no problems. Source: Google Mobile Blog
Filed in: Wap Review Directory - Search/Local
Ratings: Content Usability
Ready.mobi Score: 5 "Good"
Mobile Link: google.com/m/local