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Google Gets Pocket-Sized


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First, Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Local service brought the search giant to your backyard. Now it's in your pocket or pocketbook, thanks to upgrades that will let many mobile users access Google Local on their phones.

It's a perfectly logical strategy for Google, as more and more people adopt the conveniences offered by smart phones. After all, maps, directions, and information on local businesses are probably most useful when you're on the road. (Whether you'd also need a satellite image of all of North America is quite another story, but hey, it just looks so cool, doesn't it?)

Google Local is available for download on more than 100 phone models available from Cingular, SBC (NYSE: SBC), and BellSouth's (NYSE: BLS) joint venture; T-Mobile, the mobile communications subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT); and Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S). Compatible phones must run a programming language called Java Brew and have Internet data services included on users' monthly plans.

Google Local will let cell-phone users search for directions and local services and see maps and satellite images. (Curious, I downloaded Google Local to my own mobile phone. I have to say, it was pretty quick and easy to get. At first glance, it does look pretty cool, particularly the satellite images and pretty maps. I'll have to play around with it a lot more to determine how useful it is in real-world scenarios.) We had a sneak preview of this kind of integration when Google merged Google Maps and Google Local in October.

Of course, Google's not exactly venturing into uncharted territory. Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) already has a similar service for mobile phone users, which apparently is a bit lighter on the graphics and heavier on the text-based local search. (Speaking of which, check out this article, hot off the presses, on Yahoo!'s latest foray into mapping.) There are plenty of companies that provide GPS navigation products, too, although I'd guess that a free service from Google and Yahoo! that works on users' existing mobile phones could make marketing their standalone devices a bit more of a challenge.

So far, there's no advertising on Google Local for mobile phones. It seems it's only a matter of time before that comes to pass. In the meantime, companies like Google and Yahoo! just want to make sure that they're getting prime real estate, whether it's on your PC or in your pocket.


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