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Monday March 14, 2011 2:08 am

Marissa Mayer talks up Google’s location dominance at SXSW

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: Google, GPS

When Google talks, people listen. That is why 3,000 people crowded into a ballroom on the first day of SXSW to hear Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of consumer services, give her keynote. Her talk focused mostly on Google Maps for Mobile, and didn't do much more than outline the new features on the service. Even so, it should give serious pause to all of the companies currently offering location-based services, from Yelp to Foursquare. And it should give dedicated GPS vendors nightmares.

Google Mobile for Maps recently hit more than 150 million users, adding more than 50 million users since last summer. "Forty percent of all Maps usage is mobile," Mayer said. In fact, there have been days this year where mobile usage was actually greater than the desktop usage for the application.

Google Maps has always had driving directions, but by adding Street View and turn-by-turn navigation, it is fast becoming the go-to source for directions. "People drive more than 35 million miles a day while being assisted by Google Maps Navigation," Mayer said.

And those directions are becoming much more dynamic. The Route Around feature, for example, presents users with three routes to a destination and then overlays current traffic patterns. Users can select the route with the least traffic; Google said recently that Android users have the option to be automatically routed around traffic jams. This kind of real-time traffic advice is something for which GPS vendors like Garmin and Magellan traditionally charge users a monthly fee—Google offers it for free.

According to Mayer, the Route Around feature saves users two years of drive time every day, or about 12 million miles per year.

But it isn't just the GPS industry that should be worried. When Google launched Hotpot a few months ago, it was just a Yelp-like location service that offered check-ins and local reviews. Today, more than six million Places have been claimed by their owners, so they can include information such as hours, phone numbers, and so on. Fully 20 percent of Google searches are for local information and Hotpot results are returned every time. Even more effective, your search results are sorted by your friends, allowing your search information to connect with your social graph. It is a compelling combination.

And if that wasn't scary enough, Google is also offering what Mayer called "a very different way of experiencing art" through the Google Art Project. The project created high-resolution virtual tours of the world's great museums, which enables viewers to see the art on the wall the way the curator intended, but also zoom in to an incredible degree.

"We have a 7 billion pixel image of Starry Night," Mayer says. "Going to museum is wonderful, but this is a totally new way to experience art - it lets you get much closer."

After her presentation, Mayer conducted a long Q&A that ranged from the intellectual property rights of Google users to the frequency of JC Penney showing up in Google search results. One question that should strike either fear or hope, depending on your current employment circumstances was simply, "Are you hiring?"

"We are always hiring," Mayer responded, "Six thousand people this year, or at least that is the rumor."

This article, written by Dan Costa, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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