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Google Maps for Mobile in-depth review

Google Maps is one of the most popular mapping web sites online. Google introduced it a few years ago and has added an impressive amount of features to it. Late last year, they released a Java client called Google Maps for Mobile (GMM) which is available for any mobile device supporting Java. It’s one of the mobile applications I have the most fun with, and I feel it’s one of the most useful yet unknown program out there. GMM isn’t exactly new, but Google has continued to update it in the past months, and today it features almost the same abilities and flexibility as the web based version. Here I will describe these features and how this simple app can help so much.

The first thing to do, if you haven’t already, is to install it. Any Java supporting device that has Internet access (or on which you can transfer applications) will work. Simply go to the web site and download it. A word of caution on using this application: loading maps from your mobile will take a lot of data, so unless you have unlimited data from your provider, you need to watch your usage or risk a high bill. Thankfully GMM has a data counter in the top right showing you how much it’s downloading.

The most obvious feature of GMM is of course to browse maps. You can browse using the arrows on your device, and zoom in by pressing the middle select button. The left soft key will zoom out, and the right one will bring up the menu. From the menu, you can toggle between map and satellite mode. From there you can also access the true power behind GMM.

The first really useful feature is the search. You can do either a local search or a business search. Simply bring up the menu and press 1 or 2 then enter either an address or a business name. One neat thing is you can enter a wide range of items in the search box. You can input a zip code and GMM will zoom in to the location of that zip code. You can enter “pizza” and GMM will show you a list of Pizza restaurants in the area you are currently viewing. You can enter a street or city name, or a known place like “sphinx egypt”.

Whenever you search for something, one or more points will appear on the map. Simply browse through them by using the keypad with the 1, 2 and 3 keys. Also, any time you have a point selected on the map, you can press * to bring up the favorites menu. You can save up to 9 favorites, and those can be either map locations, search results or directions.

The next feature that is very useful is to get directions. By pressing 3 in the menu, you can select 2 points, and Google will display step by step directions. This is very precise and the results will go through every step between those 2 points, telling you which roads to take including exits and road names. Use 1, 2 and 3 to scroll from the start position to the end. One fun thing to try is to get directions to go across the Atlantic ocean.

A recent feature they added is the traffic reports. In several major US cities, pressing # in the menu will bring up the current traffic maps, showing which roads have heavy traffic. Green roads have light traffic while red ones are congested. As Google rolls out this information to more cities, GMM will be able to access this new data.

Lastly, there’s also a more advanced feature known as KML files. A KML file is a list of points on Google Maps, originally created for the Google Earth desktop application, which shows information for each point on the map. For example, someone could create a KML file that shows each Pizza restaurant in Paris, with a short description, picture and link for each. External links will load in the phone’s browser. The way to load the KML file is to do a business search from the menu, and in the search box, enter the URL of the file. GMM will load the file and display each point on the map. Simply use 1, 2 and 3 to scroll between each of them. You can find a list of files people made public on the Google Earth forum. Note that not all KML features are supported.

Google Maps for Mobile is really a cool application, mainly because being Java based, it’s so universal and lightweight, and provides access to all of the Google Maps data in real time. Google keeps updating it and they recently released versions for Windows Mobile and Blackberry, as well as GPS support for a handful of devices.

 

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