Programming the Mobile Web : Geolocation and Maps - Detecting the Location (part 2) - Google Gears

2/8/2011 4:20:26 PM

2. Google Gears

Google Gears is a browser plug-in preinstalled on some devices and optionally available on others. It is just a stopgap and will become obsolete as soon as HTML 5 becomes a standard. In the mobile world, we can find Google Gears in the Android browser from version 1.5 of the OS, in Opera Mobile from version 9.5, in Windows Mobile as an optional download for Internet Explorer, and in BlackBerry devices since version 5.0 of the OS.

2.1. Getting the position

Gears includes a Geolocation API that is similar to the W3C’s. To use the Gears API, first we need to load it into JavaScript using the script tag:

<script type="text/javascript" src="gears_init.js"></script>

We can then query the location using the getCurrentPosition method of a previously created geolocation object. This method receives a handler for success, a handler for failure, and a third optional parameter :

var geolocation = google.gears.factory.create('beta.geolocation');
geolocation.getCurrentPosition(userLocated, locationError);

The first callback receives one parameter as the position object with latitude and longitude properties. The error callback receives an error code:

function userLocated(position) {
var latitude = position.coords.latitude;
var longitude = position.coords.longitude;
var altitude = position.coords.altitude;
var timeOfLocation = position.timestamp;

function locationError(error) {

Once the location has been obtained, we can access it again using the lastPosition object (it will be null if the location has not previously been queried):

var lastPosition = geolocation.lastPosition;

2.2. Obtaining permission

As with the W3C Geolocation API, the user has to give permission to a website to use this feature. However, Gears offers us a way to query the user at any time, as shown in Figure 2, using the geolocation object created using the google.gears.factory method. This object has a hasPermission property that we can query to see whether the user has already granted us permission.

Figure 2. The Android browser showing the permission dialog for geolocation using Gears. The Gears Geolocation API allows for more customization of the permission dialog than the W3C one used in iPhone devices.

To get permission we can use the getPermission method, which receives three optional parameters: the siteName, an imageURL, and an extraMessage used to give the user information in the pop-up window. This method returns true if the user has granted access and false if not:

hasPermission = Geolocation.getPermission("", "images/logo.gif",
"Give us permission to filter your results based on your location");

2.3. Customizing location preferences

As with the W3C API, we can define an optional third parameter that can receive an object with the attributes shown in Table 4.

Table 4. Google Gears optional attributes for geolocation
PropertyTypeDefault value
timeoutInt (in milliseconds)Infinity
maximumAgeInt (in milliseconds)0
gearsAddressLanguageStringDefault language

As you can see, Gears supports the same properties as the W3C API, and three other attributes prepared for reverse geocoding. If gearsRequestAddress is defined as true, Gears will try to add address information to the position by performing a reverse geocoding, converting the latitude and longitude into address information (street, city, country). The gearsAddressLanguage property defines an RFC 3066 string language code, like "en-GB" for British English or "es-MX" for Mexican Spanish, to use for the address information. By default Gears uses Google as the provider for the reverse geocoding service, but we can provide our own provider URLs using the gearsLocationProviderUrls array.


The BlackBerry browser has supported the Gears Geolocation API for high-accuracy requests since OS 5.0. Alternatively, we can use the proprietary blackberry.location object, which is faster and less battery-intensive but provides less accuracy and information than Gears. We’ll look at the BlackBerry Location API shortly.

2.4. Reading the address

If we turn on reverse geocoding, the position object received in the handler will have a gearsAddress attribute with the following string properties:

  • street

  • streetNumber

  • premises

  • city

  • region

  • country

  • countryCode

  • postalCode

This sample gives the street information to the user:

function userLocated(position) {
if (position.gearsAddress!=null) {
var address = position.gearsAddress;
alert("You are located at " + address.streetNumber +
" " + address.street + " " +;
} else {
alert("Your address couldn't be determined");

2.5. Handling errors

Gears only supports the following W3C error codes in the error handler parameter:


  • PositionError.TIMEOUT

Remember that we can find out whether the user has granted permission by querying the hasPermission property of the geolocation object.

2.6. Tracking the location

We can also track the user’s location over time using the same technique as the W3C API. The only difference is that the watchPosition method has an optional third parameter allowing us to select optional preferences, just like the third parameter for the getCurrentLocation method.

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