Last night, I read on Owen’s blog that Google has launched its mapping service in the UK (it’s been available in the US for some time), although in true Google style, Google Maps (UK) is still labelled as a beta service. Also launched with UK content are Google Local (UK) and Google SMS (UK).
Taking Google Maps first, the first thing I can say is that it is fast. I can go straight to a place (e.g. the town where I live) and a great bonus is that there is no clicking and waiting for graphics to reload to view the adjacent parts of a map as Google’s maps are dynamic, interactive and draggable. It also has some cool features. For example, if I search on an address, I get a map with a list of businesses in the area (e.g. “Heritage House, Church Road, Egham”). I can then click through for more matching links (through integration with the Google Local service), or I can get directions to or from the referenced location (e.g. from where I live, to where I work). I use the AA route planner to work out my journeys for expense claim purposes and it sometimes takes a while (although it has the advantage of being able to specify some points to travel through where my journey is not necessarily the most direct one as I avoid south-east England’s traffic hot-spots) – the Google results are almost instant and have the added advantage that I can click on any of the steps to see a detailed map of a junction.
To be honest, Google Local was a bit of a disappointment to me, as it relies on data from Yell.com (i.e. paid advertising), but the integration with Google SMS does look useful. For some time now, Google has also been available using the 466453.com domain name (the phone keypad combination to spell Google) and now Google SMS allows quick and easy search results from a mobile phone.
For example, if I’m in Olney and I fancy a fish supper, I could text
6GOOG (64664) and a few seconds later I receive one or more text messages giving me details of local fish and chip shops, (including my favourite fish and chip shop – Enzo’s). You might want to turn off predictive text input first though!
Google SMS also provides driving directions from Google Maps, prices from Froogle, definitions of common words and calculations. Google have even provided a wallet-sized tip sheet for Google SMS users.
For a while now, industry commentators have said that Google needs to stay ahead as the search wars hot up. It may be the world’s best search engine right now, but that can’t be taken for granted as there is plenty of competition, particularly in the emerging desktop search market, and some of that competition comes from Microsoft, a company not known for holding back when it wants some market share. I reckon these new services may be just what we’ve been waiting for.