Google will try different points of integration between Google Latitude and the new Google Buzz for mobile application, a product manager for the company told eWEEK in a recent interview.
When Google launched Google Buzz Feb. 9, it launched in parallel a mobile version of that application for Google Android smartphones and Apple’s iPhone.
Google Buzz for mobile queries the phone for the best GPS coordinates and uploads that information to Google’s cloud, which figures out where the user is at that time and sends the information back to the phone.
The geolocation magic happens in the Nearby view, which shows public Buzz conversations that have been tagged with a location near a user. Users can also select a place from the list of nearby places and view posts attached to that place.
This is Google’s mobile approach to serendipitous social discovery, but it is also similar to services from Foursquare and Gowalla, which let users check in at nearby locations and share that location information with friends.
Because Google Buzz for mobile formed at the intersection of social-sharing and mobile, many industry watchers wondered if the app was a replacement for Google Latitude. Hardly, said Steve Lee, product manager for Google Maps for mobile and Google Latitude, who explained the different intents behind Google Latitude and Google Buzz for mobile.
“Latitude is a friend-finding app. It’s about a user continuously sharing location,” Lee explained. The program allows users to see the approximate location of their friends and family who have decided to share their location and then contact users via SMS, Google Talk or Gmail, or by updating status messages.
“Google Buzz is about creating conversations, and keeping up-to-date with friends and keeping your friends up-to-date about you,” Lee said. “It let you share photos of places where you’re at. If I’m at this restaurant, I can take a photo of a meal, post it in a click, and friends can see it in Gmail and comment on it.”
While Buzz is the hot new app everyone wants to talk about, users shouldn’t forget about Latitude, which the company launched as an opt-in service in February 2009.
Last November, Google added the controversial Location Alerts and Location History features. Alerts tip off users when they’re near their fellow Latitude-using friends, while History lets users see where they’ve been at any point in time.
These perks require an additional opt-in on top of the initial Latitude opt-in, which is Google’s way of showing the public how it is handling privacy with kid gloves.
Lee said that while these features showed how Google is “pushing boundaries in terms of sharing location,” they are hardly the last stop for innovation with Latitude. “We’re still investing in Latitude and we think it’s extremely important. You’ll see more and more great stuff around Latitude.”
“Down the road, there might be points of integration between Buzz and Latitude, but they are separate products and have different use cases.” Lee declined to provide specifics, but noted, “we’re thinking of what apps we can build that have certain compelling use cases and how can location enhance those apps.”
Latitude and Google Buzz for mobile are just two ways Google demonstrates its location-based prowess. Features such as My Location in Google Maps, which automatically pans a map to a user’s location and Near Me Now, which shows places around users with a single click from a smartphone, are valuable tools for the mobile user and see great usage, Lee said.
Google does not disclose how many users for any of its location-based services, but it’s enough to spur the company to continue to innovate in this area. Google’s intent is to infuse location into Google apps and Web services where location makes sense to help enhance the value of users’ mobile experiences.
“We see location is like one of the sensors on a phone, so we are going to weave it throughout many services,” Lee said.
Location is a smart investment, according to Juniper research, which crunched some numbers and estimated location-based services, including Latitude, Buzz for mobile and related services such as Foursquare, Brightkite and Loopt will reap more than $12.7 billion in sales by 2014.