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Last week, I finally had the chance to download the newest iPhone “firmware” (v.1.1.3) that was launched at Macworld. It included a number of minor enhancements to the overall usability of the device and some upgrades across its main functions. Perhaps the most trumpeted of these were the Google applications upgrades, which included new interfaces for Gmail and other Web-based applications that are optimized for the iPhone screen and interface.

Google Maps, for example, has a nice new feature that enables the device to tell where it is and show its location using a circle on the map. This is very similar to Google’s “MyLocation” feature launched in November for Windows Mobile- and Java-enabled devices. And like that product, the new iPhone feature uses cell towers (and Wi-Fi nodes care of Boston-based Skyhook Wireless) to triangulate a device’s location.

Over the weekend I got to use it for the first time on a drive down to Fresno, CA (don’t ask my why I was going there). One simple advantage I found was that it allowed me to see (numerous times) if I had missed my exit on the complicated drive. And in this way, it is a step toward being a substitute for an expensive in-car navigation system if you happen to already have an iPhone. Though it doesn’t have exact location and spoken directions, some argue the technology is better than GPS in urban areas.

The feature also eliminates the need to type in your location when doing a local search, which may seem like a small thing but makes the mobile local search process more seamless and user friendly. The main point here is that it is one more feature that makes the iPhone more usable and appealing to mainstream audiences — a slow march that the device, along with Google Android-based devices, will accomplish.

Compare this with traditional hardware and software standards in the mobile device world that were only good enough to attract a meager set of early adopters to mobile local search. This comes down to the simple reality that phone carriers aren’t the best arbiters of software and search-based technology. Yet for many years they ultimately ruled over the mobile hardware and software that consumers end up with.

Now that this power is shifting to those that should have it (i.e., Apple, Google), we’ll see much better standards, applications, consumer penetration, and as a result, more defined location-based services, advertising models and monetization. And around and around we go.


Related: Skyhook Wireless, the company behind the iPhone’s new mapping feature, will join us on stage for the TKG sessions at SES London (agenda here).

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