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Google isn't going to let a little failed purchase of Yelp get in the way of its expansion into local mobile advertising. The search giant today added "Near Me Now" fuctionality to the iPhone.
And while results may not be thorough today, Google is providing plenty of incentive to small businesses to sign up with Google local and help the search engine achieve the kind of dominance in local that it has mastered online.
Google has been able to track users' location information with smartphones for awhile, making it easy to give users a heads up about what's going on nearby. And now there's apparently a handy button to help users find locations around them on the mobile homepage (though I can't see it on my phone right now). Users can “explore right here" to find a list of local businesses — of a wide variety that Google estimates are nearby to their exacy location.
According to the Google Mobile blog:
"First, we wanted to make it fast and easy to find out more about a place in your immediate vicinity, whether you're standing right in front of a business or if it's just a short walk away. Second, we wanted to make searching for popular categories of nearby places really simple. Imagine that you emerge from the subway station and you want to grab a coffee, but you don't see a coffee shop around you. You can simply search for all nearby coffee shops by using 'Near me now.'"
There's also this explanatory video (if you can handle the cheesy background music):
The Google Yelp deal was valued at $750 million before it all fell apart last month. But while Yelp's local data would have been a boon to Google's local Favorite Places efforts, this tiny tweak is just a bit of evidence proving how easily Google can go into local alone.
Even if the data is not exact, local restaurants and businesses should be jumping at the chance to get into those results. While online searchers are exceedingly picky about what they're looking for, mobile users are often in a rush and looking for a quick fix. So while someone may not choose to go to some random local pizza place just because it showed up in an online search, if s/he is leading a group of ten around an unknown city and needs a place to eat, those priorities change pretty quickly.
As the mobile ad market grows in leaps and bounds, whoever has the most reliable results for real-time location aware information will have a huge leg up. With Google's purchase of AdMob in November for $750 million and Apple's recent Quattro acquisition, the mobile market is expected to be $13 billion by 2013.
And while local niche businesses like Yelp, Foursquare and Loopt may specialize in having the most thorough and useful information on venues in any given city, Google has the benefit of ubiquity. Consumers used to Googling online are likely to go to that search engine on their phones to get local info (especially when it's the default).
While results may not be incredibly useful today, Google is sure to improve them in coming iterations of mobile search. Together with the new QR code enabled stickers that Google is providing to its pre-approved "Favorite Places" businesses, the search giant is providing plenty incentive to ensure that local businesses sign up to use its mobile services — and help it achieve search dominance there as well.