Thinking about Geolocation APIs for Windows Mobile

Since owning a WinMo phone (or windows phone?), I’ve been thinking of developing some real applications on it. Currently, Geolocation is all the rage, allowing a application to respond different depending on your current location. This is done automatically via different mechanisms such as the most obvious and accurate one, GPS, and less reliable ones such as Cell Tower ID and nearby WIFI hotspot mac addresses.

So I set about searching for a Geo-Location API for windows mobile. Unfortunately, compared to Android and iPhone, the WinMo API is severely lacking in this regard. There seems to be some support in the next version of the .NET Compact Framework (4), but nothing in the current released APIs.

So I set about looking at third party APIs, most notably Google Gears. Google Gears is a framework that plugs into browsers, giving web pages expanded functionality such as offline storage. It also provides what appears to be, a comprehensive Location API, supporting gps, cell ID, and wifi for positioning and returning the Longitude/Latitude and street address. There are 2 gear plugins available for Windows Mobile, one for IE Mobile and one for Opera Mobile. The gears framework API seems to be available only to web browsers, thus web page developers, but not normal application developers.

So I set about seeing if I can access the google location web service directly. Helpfully, google posts the web service API specifications to build your own location API service provider. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you where the google service end point is. According to this page, google only allows interaction with the location service via Gears API. So it seems that even if you sniffed out the end point URL, you’ll be in violation of the google TOS to use the service.

But all is not lost – a workaround to all this, is to somehow embed Google Gears in your own application. Since google gears is open source software, BSD licensed, you can freely embed and distribute it along with your application. Searching the web, there seems to be very little information regarding embedding. Looking at the source, there are code relating to integrating with specific browsers. Ideally, we should link with a distributed google gears runtime by emulating an already defined browser interface. The NPAPI interface seems to be the most hopeful. I suspect Gears for Opera Mobile uses the NPAPI interface.

My aim is to provide a Windows Mobile .NET CF interface to the location api of google gears. If I am successful in that endeavour, there will a part two of this post. If not, I hope this post helps someone out there.

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