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Google Mixes Traffic Updates Into Mobile Maps App

Just in time for late-summer vacation road warriors, Google on Tuesday began offering mobile phone users in more than 30 major metropolitan areas the ability to view highway maps with live traffic updates.

With its enhanced application, Google is moving deeper into territory inhabited by rivals Microsoft and Yahoo. Both competitors offer real-time traffic information on their Web-based mapping services for PCs. Microsoft also offers mobile solutions through a licensing agreement with traffic monitoring technology startup InRix.

“This release won’t avert an intergalactic disaster any time soon, but we’d like to think the ‘Men in Black’ would give it a try,” said Google Software Engineer Josh Sacks.

Navigating the Galaxy

Here’s how it works: After downloading Google Maps for mobile through their mobile phone’s Web browser, users move to the desired location within the application and select “show traffic” in the menu.

The most up-to-date traffic information will be sent directly to the users’ mobile device, and will highlight the conditions on the covered commuter routes using red, yellow, and green overlays.

When mobile phone users search for driving directions, they will now see the expected drive time as well as any unexpected traffic delays. Mobile users will also have the ability to store their favorite searches and driving directions, allowing them to access frequently used routes and compare traffic conditions.

Looking for Partners

Real-time mobile traffic solutions are in demand and Google’s application is certainly solid, said Weston Henderek, senior analyst of wireless services at Current Analysis, but that combination doesn’t guarantee a successful product.

“If Google does not have partnerships with any of the leading wireless carriers in the U.S., then they will just be duking it out with a bunch of other companies that offer similar applications,” Henderek told TechNewsWorld. “That will make it difficult to drive usage in the market.”

Wireless applications like Google Maps for mobile are driven by ease of use, Henderek added. Users want access to information with one or two clicks from the carrier’s deck. Until Google can strike a deal with a Cingular or Verizon Wireless, he relegates Tuesday’s announcement to “media fluff.”

Personalizing the Mobile Homepage

Henderek feels much the same about Google’s announcement of a second feature Tuesday: the search giant said users can now customize the content that appears on the mobile version of their Personalized Homepage. The new feature is designed to make it even easier for mobile phone users to get the information they need when away from their computers.

“Search engine companies have very similar content,” Henderek said. “Consumers don’t really care where the content is coming from. They care about how easily accessible it is on their mobile phone.”

Google seems to be focused on the ease of use aspect Henderek noted. When users log into Personalized Home on their desktop and click on the “mobile” link, they will be able to customize the content they see the next time they log on to their Personalized Home on their mobile device. Users can also specify the order in which content on their mobile device appears.

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