Don't look now, but Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Maps for Android application just took a step toward e-commerce potential with the company's introduction of a feature that lets Android smartphone and tablet users see where they are and what's nearby in select malls, airports and retail stores.
Think of it as Google bringing its vast online mapping software tools, which to date have been used to graph both digital and real-world footage, indoors to help mobile device users get a handle on what's around them in large structures.
This capability in Google Maps 6.0 for Android displays detailed floor plans when a user is looking at a map on their Android device with retailers such as Macy's and Ikea, the Mall of America in Minneapolis, as well as several airports, such as San Francisco International.
Users' approximate locations, shown here, will be indicated with a blue dot icon within several meters. To make this possible, the app leverages GPS, cell towers and WiFi hubs for data and communicates it to Google's location servers. Moreover, the app automatically updates the map layout as users move up or down a level in a building with multiple floors.
Google Product Manager Steve Lee told eWEEK, who noted the location data is accurate within 5 to 10 meters indoors, Google had to negotiate deals with retailers, malls and airports to use the building layout information.
Lee declined to say what, if any, money was paid to those partners for that information. Prospective partners may go to Google Maps Floor Plans, find their building on the map; upload pictures of their floor plans, blueprints, or directories; and line up their floor plan with satellite images in Google Maps.
"Any venue can use this self-service tool and upload their floor plan themselves," Lee said. "We hope starting now and throughout 2012 this will accelerate adoption of this by venues. Hopefully other venues see the value that our launch partners have to their customers and visitors."
While this feature has miles to go before it's sufficiently stocked with business partners and users to enjoy the building layouts the Android app provides, it's not hard to see the ripe potential that exists for e-commerce opportunities.
While Lee declined to comment on Google's specific plans, the company could integrate its new Business Photos capability, which uses Street View-style cameras to snap real-world photos of participating businesses that choose to share that information for Google's Places service. Business Photos provide 360-degree views of store decor and merchandise.
Google could then overlay daily deals from Google Offers atop or next to store names in a mall. For malls that have loads of stores, or retailers such as Macy's that have eight-story buildings in San Francisco, Google might also include data on fresh sales from those stores to attract potential customers who happen to fire up the app.
Consumers might even cash in on the deals or sales by paying for goods from phones or tablets enabled with Google's Wallet mobile payment service.
The possible options for Google to leverage mobile commerce are many, agreed industry analyst Greg Sterling, who blogged about the new tool for Search Engine Land.
"Lots of possibilities there," Sterling told eWEEK. "They wouldn't say anything, but I would agree that there will be a range of options, some of which they'd pursue."
He noted that companies such as Point Inside, Micello and FastMall are already showing deals on maps. These startups could be acquired by Microsoft, Yahoo or others looking to challenge Google's latest Maps effort.