Geolocation helps a user identify their current geographic location. Till a few years ago, geolocation was restricted to very few devices such as GPS and a few others. This information was not open, could not be shared easily and nothing useful could be built around it.
With the rapid growth of Social Geolocation tools like Four Square, Gowalla, etc. this has changed dramatically.
How does it work?
Strictly speaking the geolocation features are being standardized by a different body than the HTML5 Working Group, the Geolocation Working Group. But as modern browsers are adding both Geolocation and HTML5 as one complete feature set, it usually gets included under the HTML5 features set.
The Geolocation feature works by using geographical location information available through various sources used depending on the device. This includes satellite data, radio tracking devices, Internet hardware as well as wireless communication equipment.
More precisely the system makes use of GPS, RFID, IP address, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Mac IDs or mobile phone towers and handset IDs. Any tool built using this feature can track a user’s position with excellent accuracy once all details are provided.
A new dimension to current applications
HTML5 and geolocation together will add a completely new dimension to current applications. Let us take search as an example.
Today search results from search engines only superficially provide location specific information. This is mostly static and depends on which computer or device you use most often.
A geolocation enabled search engine on the other hand will work depending on where you are NOW. Add social elements like reviews and your past likes and it becomes a very powerful tool. It can can give ratings and provide information.
If you are in Irvine, CA and you query ‘Chinese food’, today Google will give you a set of results. You will need to explicitly filter with the words ‘Irvine’ in your search. It won’t tell you which hotel or restaurant is rated high and what your friends recommend.
On the other hand, a Social geolocation enabled application will know where you are. When you query ‘Chinese food’ it will give you a list of restaurants and hotels in that area, their distance, their menu based on your earlier likes and ratings as per reviews by your social network. You will also know if any of your friends are nearby.
Current status of HTML5 Geolocation
The Geolocation feature is available on the Apple iPad and iPhone along with the Google Android phone. Speaking of browsers, the newer versions of Mozilla Firefox (3.5+), Chrome, Opera and Safari support the Geo location API along with most HTML5 elements.