Google Earth for Tablets Should Have Desktop Features

Google Earth on the Nexus OneGoogle Earth on the mobile platform was first released for the iPhone in October 2008. It was very popular (and continues to be so today) thanks to being able to move and zoom with the touch screen, and the beauty of the imagery on high resolution smart phone screens. But, the new app would not let you see much in the way of map information – very little KML content was made available, and you couldn’t load KML files. Even so, most of us were just thrilled to see such a cool 3D app on a phone at all, so we weren’t too disappointed.
There weren’t many updates to the mobile application until Google Earth for iPhone 2.0 was released in November 2009. Before 2.0 was released Google had added some new layers you could see in Google Earth (like photos, roads, and Wikipedia placemarks). But, you couldn’t load KML files – only view the Google Earth terrain and imagery and the built-in layers. Google finally added an ability to add some KML content indirectly in the iPhone 2.0 version by allowing you to load maps you had saved in My Maps. But, only certain basic KML content was viewable. There hasn’t been a big update to the iPhone version since since 2009.
Early last year, with the introduction of the Nexus One, Google released Google Earth for Android. It had some differences from the iPhone version, including some support for GPS following. But, it also did not support KML content. A few updates to the Android came out in 2010, including version 1.1 which added the Ocean layers and undersea 3D terrain. But, you still can’t load KML content on the Android platform.
Even without more features, Google Earth is already one of the most popular apps on smart phones and tablets like the iPad (see ten must have apps for the iPad).
What about tablets?

Google Maps on the iPad

With the introduction of the new wave of tablets coming out this year (e.g. the Google/Motorola XOOM with Android 3.0/Honeycomb and Apple iPad 2), we are going to see new CPU horsepower (and 3D horsepower) made available. These computers will actually be more powerful than many desktops that run the full desktop version of Google Earth. There’s no reason I can see that tablets couldn’t run a more fully capable Google Earth application (besides the need for it to be ported to the iOS and Android operating systems). Since Google Earth already runs on Linux, Mac OS, and Windows – I’m sure Google could make a porting of the app happen!
We realize that Google is also developing the Google Maps application on the mobile platform to have more 3D capabilities. But, there’s a huge difference between adding 3D to the Maps application and the full desktop capabilities of Google Earth.
We would like to see Google Earth on tablets take full advantage of the built in features – better UI features for the touch screen; take full advantage of built-in GPS, compass, gyro, and accelerometers (imagine flying the flight simulator using those features!); better features for recording GPS tracks and showing your position during travels. Not only that, but features from the desktop version such as: measuring distances, adjusting mapping routes, historical imagery, time animations, and interfacing with Google Maps should be included. And, it’s even more critical to have the offline capabilities of Google Earth on mobile platforms like a tablet. Most importantly, you should be able to load any KML content on a tablet just like on a desktop – including network links (which enable live content such as weather and real-time position updating). I’m certain the tablet platforms can support most of the capabilities of the desktop client. Google just needs to port the app to those operating systems.
While we’re on our soapbox pleading for new features, there’s one new feature Mickey and I have been discussing that needs to come to Google Earth regardless of OS (but, especially if you have more KML capability on the tablets and/or mobile platform). Google should support the ability to put your “My Places” content (the content you want to be there when you load Google Earth) up into the cloud. Whether its stored in your Dropbox, or maybe Google Docs – you should be able to point your “My Places” to a file storage space on the net somewhere. That way when you move from one system to another, you can point Google Earth at your centrally located “My Places” content and have your favorite content (and other GE settings) always available.
So, consider this our vote for Google to port the full Google Earth capabilities to the mobile tablet platforms. I hope most of you other Google Earth lovers will agree that you’d like to see this happen for your upcoming tablet acquisition. Because, it seems like there’s going to be a lot of people with tablets in the not so distant future.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was released. He worked in 3D graphics for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank left in 2009 to circumnavigate the earth by sailboat as part of the Tahina Expedition.



Comments

  1. I would love to see what you mentioned also available for the Chrome OS pilot program, using the CR-48 ChromeBook. Give me that and SketchUp, and I’m working in the cloud full time.
    I would love it, and I know hundreds, if not thousands of others would also.

  2. Jack — I’ve gotta think that the Google Earth plug-in will be coming to Chrome OS, though we haven’t heard anything about it yet.
    The problem could be the low-powered machines. They acceptable for browsing, but I would expect it to slow to a crawl if it had an instance of the plug-in running on there.
    SketchUp in the cloud would be great, too!

  3. If they could port the Google Earth plugin to HTML5 then it would potentially run on lower powered devices. I think if they did this the applications developers would build against the platform with the accelerometers and compasses would be mind blowing.
    Either way we are waiting with baited breath for the release here at http://www.gobreadcrumbs.com so we can truly port our app over to mobile.

  4. Thank you for your wonderful blog and for this insightful post. I 100% agree, especially about the Places panel in Earth. For 3 Years (!) I have been pulling my hair out trying to teach middle schoolers how to save content from the places panel. After a variety of approaches, I just have to conclude that it is not in their zone- the hierarchy of folders in the panel inevitably results in students replacing hours of work by saving one placemark over their other work, with the same file name. Somehow syncing to the cloud is a must, or else the tool will continue to be limited, at least in terms of students creating content. I am with you also that the apps, at this point, should be catching up to what the application can do.

  5. The ability to edit “My Places” on a tablet could be HUGE! Specifically I would love to see the ability to edit data both in a connected and disconnected environment. This might involve some off-line caching of GE data. This would be helpful for specific field editing operations. Keep up the great work.

  6. Maps 5.0 is a nice 3D app:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAh4yiCzgKw

  7. Let’s hope that Google do expand the range of circumstances in which GE can be used to its full capabilities. But don’t hold your breath if you are looking for something outside the mainstream.
    Contrary to what you say Frank I am afraid that GE 6, nor I suspect the GE Plug in, does not run on all versions of Mac OS X, and, unless something has changed recently, is not supported on OS X 10.4 (Tiger) which is robust, fully functioning, and maintained by Apple. Naturally this is disappointing.

  8. While the available versions of Google Earth on various devices are already stunning, it is not self-evident that Google has the man-power to do everything that we could dream of.
    I asked the question of the first comment directly in the GE Plugin Group and the developers were surprised/ not aware that people would expect to see the plugin on ChromeOS. The general idea was rather that native applications were not intended to come to Chrome OS. So we will curiously see if the plans change…
    In addition, development seems to be currently more centered on fixing existing bugs than adding more platforms. I guess they might be waiting to ship a universal html5/webGL version in future, but that would be very critical for low-powered devices (webGL has still bad performance on high-end machines).

  9. thanks

  10. We’re working on it.

  11. Does anyone know if the recent (5/5/11) release of GE for Android (v2.0.1) improved the ability to handle KML files?

  12. Domingo Undurraga says:

    Does anyone know how load dinamics KLM o KMZ files at iPad, i saw many app, but i can;t solve yet. I try to load at my maps, but doesn’t works.

  13. the mytracks data can be loaded into g.maps for android. i cant wait to see that happen on g.earth. still cannot find a way to transfer tracks from my garmin to g.maps.but i’ll be patient.

  14. Just bought the Nexus 7 32GB. Added Google Earth and wanted “My Places” for work meeting. Went to the laptop and emailed the folder to the tablet. Then found that Google Earth mobile on my Nexus will not recognize the “My Places” file I saved.
    Google Earth mobile on my Nexus is now downgraded from a stellar app to a good one. Please give me the ability to save my places to the tablet with functionality to see, add, delete, or modify them.
    Then Google Earth mobile goes back to stellar rating.

  15. Jon Horridge says:

    And a simple light-weight “Flat Google Earth” for navigating a boat using GPS on a Raspberry Pi please!

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