Google's Gears platform is still fairly young as far as Web tools go. A year after its launch (today is the one-year anniversary) it's still found only in a handful of Web apps. Its real power is for mobile users, laptop road warriors and, in the case of mobile phones, for people who are in and out of range of cellular data networks. That is, as long as developers spend the time to build Gears into their sites.
At the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Charles Wiles and Andrei Popescu, who work on the Google Gears for mobile project in London, discussed the current state of Gears for mobile, a project they launched into shortly after the release of the desktop version.
While the platform is currently only available for Internet Explorer on Windows Mobile 5 and 6, Wiles noted that the upcoming version of Opera mini and version 9.5 (for desktops) will be Gears enabled. So will Android when devices with the operating system ship later this year.
The main takeaway from the talk is that Gears for mobile phones can solve some of the problems frequently found on mobile Web apps--mainly slow connections and people dropping out of the range of a data connection during data transfer. The example shown was Google Photos, which has a mobile version that's recently become Gears enabled. Users who have a Gears mobile enabled device can download thumbnails and indexes locally, to avoid having to download them the next time they visit. This means Gears enabled pages will load faster as long as they're in your Gears mobile cache.
So what about other platforms? There was no talk of Gears making its way to BlackBerry, although with the mention that it's making its way to an upcoming version of Opera Mini, it should be expected it will make its way on there, too. Also mentioned was Google Maps--in the form of an audience question as to whether the app would receive Gears treatment. Popescu said it would "probably be the last application we'd port," citing that there are many local clients for it on all types of devices, and that fetching that information about a place before a user searches for it does not jibe with the way the service currently works. In the meantime, third-party developers have hacked together their own offline Google Maps solution on the iPhone which will pull down entire city maps and store them locally to let you search around quickly even while away from a solid data connection.