Google Earth Evolution

Yesterday, TechCrunch writer Duncan Riley got soundly slapped by his readers for posting a story with the headline “Google Earth Heading Towards Extinction?“. He said because Google has recently announced some new features for Google Maps, this must mean Google Earth is on “borrowed time”. Anyone who actually uses Google Earth and compares it to Google Maps, knows that the beauty and richness of Google Earth is not going to go away any time soon. The 3D capability for looking at the Earth, the abilities to overlay information, and the simple and powerful interface of Google Earth is here to stay. All you have to do is read some of the stories on this blog to see there are many powerful ways to use Google Earth that even Google didn’t imagine.
Mount Saint Helens comparison Google Maps and Google EarthAll that being said, I think it is worth noting that Google Maps is evolving more rapidly lately than Google Earth. Google has added a flood of new features and capabilities to the 2D product. But, let’s remember it was only a few months ago (late August), that Google added some pretty significant new capabilities to Google Earth: anyone forgetting the new Sky mode, the YouTube layer, or the amazing Flight Simulator mode?
I believe Google will continue to borrow capabilities from Google Earth and incorporate them within the web-based product (Google Maps). In fact, someday I believe the two will merge in some ways. However, as several people pointed out in the comments to the TechCrunch article, it will still require at least a separate plug-in application to run real 3D from within a browser. At least until browsers become 3D. Google Earth’s performance in 3D (as amply demonstrated by the Flight Simulator mode), is a big part of the reason why it is a separate application. But, the other important reason is that the interface for browsing information in GE is a different paradigm from the normal web browser. It wasn’t long ago that Firefox had fewer downloads than the 250+ million people who have installed Google Earth. A few more killer applications of data for Google Earth could make it so indispensable everyone will have it installed (maybe Mac OSX will start shipping it by default?).
Google Earth will evolve as well. It has already changed dramatically in the several years since it was created. Like any other popular software, it too will continue to change and grow new, and hopfully better, features. Yes, I write about Google Earth every day. But, check out Mount Saint Helens in Google Earth. Viewing features of the world like this in Google Earth is so much better than Google Maps – even with the new 2D relief maps. ‘Nuff said.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. It was kind of fun reading through the discussion over there — at the same time feeling a little off’d by those who claim GE is a ‘toy’. I know far too many experts and scientists in the field using GE — it’s anything but a ‘toy’.

  2. It’s interesting to watch how quickly the geoscience (land/ocean/atmosphere) and environmental satellite communities have gravitated towards Google Earth platforms. As recently as a few years ago, GIS was sort of a profession into itself, in geography department. Now it’s being more fundamentally integrated across the sciences, as the number of articles with the words “geobrowser” or “Google Earth” will attest to. I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon….

  3. It isn’t a question of which is better, they have completely different functions. One might as well say that since airplances are much faster than cars, cars will be discontinued. The reality is that one prefers a 2-D representation for some functions (e.g. navigation, calculating time and distance) and a 3-D representation for others (including both practical and estetic applications). Both will continue and evolve.

  4. I think for the vast majority of people using Google Earth it IS a toy. Also, in the name of competition I, like Frank, think that the two will merge at one point (with the browser version eventually incorporating as many of the features of the desktop version as is possible in a browser so they can say THEIR web service is better than Microsoft’s, and vice-versa). As such, I think that Google Earth is slightly on borrowed time. I’m sure they’ll bring new versions out with extra features, and this will always stay ahead of the web version, but for what the vast majority of people use Google Maps for (and yes, Google earth eventually, too) people won’t NEED the extra functionality of Google Earth, and it’ll mainly be used by scientists and whomever the ‘power users’ of today are. I very much consider myself to be a regular guy, and I rarely use Google Earth any more. At first it was fun, but now the novelty’s kinda worn off. I used the new ‘sky’ mode for a few days but I found that it was a bit clunky and bodged together.
    I dunno really, I like the idea of Google Earth, but I don’t use it too often, and as more and more KML features come into Google Maps I find myself using it less and less often. I even try out the KML-only links of this blog in the maps version to see if it’ll work before I bother to open Google Earth.
    That’s just my thinking…

  5. Eddie Zubcov says:

    Some of you in the developed world seem to forget that Google Maps covers a much smaller part of the Earth than GE. For those of us still waiting for Maps to arrive to our territories, GE is a wonderful tool.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.