Google has added a new service that enables cell phone users in the U.S. to use a remarkably robust version of Google Local directly from a mobile handset.
The new service, available now at http://mobile.google.com/local, is very similar to the local search service available via personal computer. "There are some differences between cell phone and [personal computer” results, but not enough in this particular instance to impact users," said Georges Harik, director of product management for Google.
The search screen for local mobile features two boxes to enter "what" and "where" search terms, a search button and a link to get driving directions.
Results include links to ten local services matching the location criteria you entered. A small map at the top of results shows the locations of each result, marked with a pushpin-like icon.
Although the maps look very similar to those presented with Google Maps and Google Local, you can't drag the mobile maps around the screen. You can change the orientation of the maps, however, using links to shift the map to the north, south, east or west, or to zoom in or out.
As with Google local search results, clicking the link for a result displays a business information page with more detail about the business.
Telephone numbers in local mobile search results are displayed as a hyperlink. If your phone supports it, clicking the link dials the telephone number for the business.
Unlike the pay-per-call options increasingly available with other providers of local search results, Google does not charge merchants to enable the click-to-call feature. If there is a phone number in search results, the click-to-call feature is automatically implemented.
Harik declined to discuss future plans for offering sponsored listings, pay-per-call advertisements or other potential enhancements to the local mobile service, other than to say that Google "plans to do whatever would be useful" for users of the service.
There are two options for getting driving directions. From the home page of local mobile, click the Driving Directions link at the bottom of the screen—this calls up a search form that lets you enter your start and end addresses. Alternately, you can click the driving directions link in search results.
Driving directions are displayed in a terse, bulleted list. Unlike the desktop version of Google Local, there is no accompanying map with your route traced out with a highlighted line.
To use the new Google local mobile search, your cell phone must have a browser that supports XHTML, and you must be a subscriber to a service plan that provides internet access. Harik says that about 70% of all cell phones shipped these days are equipped with the capability to access local mobile search.
Google continues to expand its offerings in the mobile search space. The new local mobile search joins web and image search, Froogle, and a number of advanced search features accessible via your cell phone. See the Google Mobile Search FAQ and the Google SMS FAQ for more information.
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