Is Google about to release an API for location?

(Update 31/5/08): TechCrunch’s Nik Cubrilovic has now taken up this baton and run with it: Google To Launch Large Scale Geo-Services


Is Google poised to release an API for geo-location, based on it’s magical My Location feature in Google Maps for mobile? Could be.

Something called the “Geolocation API” has appeared on this list for Google Gears code. And code for geo-location has appeared here.

The “GeolocationAPI” is described thus: “Provides the geolocation of a device running a Gears-enabled web browser.” Here it is in the specific code for Gears.

Now I’m no expert but inside this code are a number of references to “cell_towers”, “cell_id”, and “wifi_towers”. Further down there are fascinating definitions of the terms, such as “timing_advance: Represents the distance from the cell tower. Each unit is roughly 550 meters.”

In other words, it looks like Google is going to allow third party developers to make use of its geolocation API.

That would be a significant move, and one which would throw a number of mobile operators into disarray, since location is one of the few golden eggs they have left, as the world moves to VOIP and data.

I asked Google (in the UK) to comment. A spokesperson said “We think location is an important aspect of mobile applications, and we’ve been thrilled with the usefulness of My Location in Google Maps for mobile, but we have nothing to announce at this time.”

So there’s no official word on the move but this discussion on a list, lodged today, says: “Google would like to volunteer some resources to work on a specification to provide a Geolocation API for the Web platform.” This may or may not be related.

Now, I’m not sure if the API is live or working right now, or if it’s just lying latent in the code for implementation later. It may well be the latter.