A ton of new features were added to Google Earth in 2007. The official release of Google Earth version 4 was made on January 10th. But, since that product was available in beta during the last half of 2006, I’m not even going to count those new features for 2007. See the top 10 new features for 2006 for more information. Make sure you look over this list carefully, there are some amazing new capabilities in Google Earth compared to 2006. Here are the top 10 new features for 2007:
SpaceNavigator Support – Google Earth starting with Version 4 on both Windows and Mac OSX supports the fabulous 3D mouse by 3DConnexion called SpaceNavigator. See my review (based on the beta release). I highly recommend getting a SpaceNavigator if you enjoy using Google Earth (or other popular virtual globes – also supported on NASA Worldwind, Microsoft Virtual Earth, and Google SketchUp).
Google Sky mode – When Google Earth 4.2 was released on August 22nd, we were all treated to a new mode in Google Earth called “Sky”. Sky lets you look up at the night sky from the Earth and Google has placed high resolution imagery from Hubble Space Telescope and other sources for you to zoom deep into space. You can also search for your favorite astronomical objects like “Andromeda Galaxy”, or “M57” (aka the “Ring Nebula”). Read my initial review of Sky.
Flight Simulator mode – Hidden in GE 4.2 was an easter egg feature – the very cool Flight Simulator mode for Google Earth. Read my Flight Simulator tips post for all the details.
PhotoViewer – Another feature introduced with GE 4.2 – the new PhotoViewer allows you to view photos in the same orientation as the original photo was taken. The mode allows very high resolution photos to be inserted. It also allows you to show panoramic or spherical photos. See this cool view inside a helicopter for an example.
New Imagery – Google again continued to add and update huge amounts of new imagery. Although no numbers are put out by Google, there have been millions of square kilometers of new and updated imagery all around the world. The most recent update in mid-December had new and updated magery on all the continents – including most of Antarctica. If you haven’t looked at your house or other favorite places recently, look again – there are new images in Google Earth you haven’t seen before.
New Layers – One of the more overlooked features of Google Earth are the built-in layers. These layers contain a vast array of useful and very powerful information. In addition to the basic Roads layer, you have the very useful Geographic Web layer which has grown many times in 2007 since it was originally introduced late last year. Google has added many new layers throughout 2007, and added vast amounts of new data to existing layers. The business listings for many cities and countries were added in 2007 and contain millions of new businesses.
Panoramio Layer The Panoramio layer is part of the Geographic Web layer. It stands out as one of the most useful GE layers. The Panoramio layer contains photos posted by many people all around the world which have been placed in the location where the photo was taken. Turn it on (or just turn on the Geographic Web layer), and you will see placemarks of the photos as you zoom in to a location. The Panoramio layer now contains millions of photos for you to see more interesting views for most popular places around the world (and many places you would never think of visiting). Google acquired the company Panoramio because it was so useful.
YouTube/Flash Support – Another GE 4.2 feature added was support for limited flash applications within Google Earth placemark description windows. Right now, this feature only works on Windows, but Google was able to introduce support for embedded videos – so they introduced the new YouTube layer (to see videos tagged to a location).
Weather Layer – For a long time I hoped Google would introduce weather into the layers. They finally did in early November. Here are more details on the weather layer.
KML Standard – Google submitted KML as a standard to the Open Geospatial Consortium. Google has substantially improved the integration between Google Maps and Google Earth using KML as the standard underlying format for geospatial data in both platforms. ESRI (the largest GIS software company) began supporting KML last year in their products. Even Microsoft has begun supporting KML for the Virtual Earth platform. Some of the new features mentioned above (like Flash support, and PhotoViewer) required new features in KML to enable the new capabilities. Along with GE 4.2 came KML 2.2. One overlooked new capability in KML 2.2 is the ability to link between placemarks in description bubbles. For a powerful example of this new feature, check out the geography quiz done for National Geographic Magazine’s Geography Awareness Week. I hope to see a lot more use of this new capability in 2008.