During the past year I have been sailing through the Caribbean and the south Pacific and, after 13,000 miles of sailing, arrived in New Zealand. Right now, I’m back in the US visiting friends and family for the holidays.
Earlier this year, Google was good enough to send me an unlocked Nexus One (see GEB review). Increasingly, I’ve managed to use the phone – often without cell or WIFI connections – for a variety of applications. Google Earth for Mobile still has the ability to work offline, just like the desktop version. You just have to visit the places you want to store (while you are on an Internet connection) and the last 2GBytes of data are remembered in your cache. Then, when you have no Internet, you can still use Google Earth to re-visit those places. The offline ability can be incredibly useful since you often have a need for geo-spatial awareness when you are far away from a data connection (read my story on Google Earth for Sailors).
Keep reading for more about using Google Earth on your phone…
Google Earth for Android has a nifty interface when you use it under motion. When you turn on the GPS, you can click on the menu option “My Location” and it will track your position. As you move along in a car, it can even tilt the view so you get a 3D perspective of your motion down the road. Unfortunately, the current version doesn’t let you set up directions from within Google Earth though. But, that’s not a real problem, because of the next app.
Google Earth technology has been blended in with Google Maps on Android as well. There’s an amazing GPS navigation tool that works with Google Maps for Android and gives you voice navigation, directions, AND it can show your 3D position using a view very much like the Google Earth view. In fact, the navigation has a better look than more costly dedicated car navigation tools. And, it is available for free for your phone!
When we first arrived to New Zealand, Google had just turned on the ability to do GPS navigation for that country. I tested driving with both Google Earth and with the new GPS navigation tool and they worked flawlessly! See the screenshot to the right for a view of the app running while driving in New Zealand. I really like the GPS navigation tool and have used it several times in both New Zealand and now in the US. The only drawback is that the GPS uses a lot of power and will drain your phone battery quickly (unless you hook up to a power source like your laptop or the lightplug). And, if you are using a limited data plan it will be best to first cache your route data before you leave while you’re on a WIFI so you don’t use up the bandwidth on the trip.
Another favorite Android app, which indirectly uses Google Earth technology, is Google Sky Maps. This app is one of the killer apps of Android IMHO. I’ve shown it countless times to people and everyone is always impressed. It uses the motion sensors, digital compass, and GPS to detect the 3D position of the phone as you hold it. It then draws the stars, planets, and constellations as viewed behind your phone. So, as you hold the phone up it can show you what stars or planets you are seeing in that direction! It even shows them under the horizon, so you can see when the sun, moon, or constellation is about to rise. Sailors love this app because they are so often getting to see the beautiful night sky while sailing at sea with no city lights. Did you know Google Earth has a really cool night time sky mode?
Android phones and Google Earth technology really go well together. I’m expecting to see even further advances in the future – things like showing your GPS tracks (or other KML content) in Google Earth on your phone, and viewing other popular Google Earth content like real-time earthquakes, weather, web cams, etc.