The new Ovi Maps 3D vs. Google Earth

With Microsoft Bing Maps dropping their 3D support, it seemed that Google Earth might be the only 3D option in town. However, Nokia has recently launched Ovi Maps 3D, and it’s a strong competitor to Google Earth — at least in terms of visuals.


The images are generated by C3, who creates them by taking up to 100 images of a single location, and then automatically generating the 3D textures from it. The result is an amazing level of detail that includes buildings, trees, and even accurate highway overpasses, as seen in the image above. It launched with 20 cities, many of which also include StreetView-like views in some areas.
[Update from Frank: In 2008, Google also started introducing semi-automated 3D cities to Google Earth with the introduction of GE 4.3. Although they never released details on what technology was used, and several more cities were added, the technique used clearly was done with aerial photography and the quality is quite good. But, Google also favors the use of user-generated models from their 3DWarehouse over their own auto-generated buildings. Usually this means even better quality detail for buildings, but consistency in look and lighting suffers. To my knowledge, not many new cities were added with this technology in recent years. [End Update]
The only downside to Ovi’s 3D city technique is that many buildings appear to be melting, as shown here.

Still, the overall look of the cities is great! They’ve done a very nice job, and the coverage is quite extensive. The control scheme is solid, though there’s no SpaceNavigator support because it only runs in a browser.
The problem is that it stops there, as there is no way to extend it. No KML support, no plug-ins, no overlays, no API, etc. A huge part of what makes Google Earth so great is the ability to extend it with your own data, and that’s a big hole in Ovi Maps. However, I spoke with their team for a while at Where 2.0 recently and was assured that an API was coming soon, though they wouldn’t discuss whether it would support KML or not.
All in all, it’s a solid first effort and certainly is something to keep an eye on, especially as they expand their 3D coverage and begin to offer an API of some kind. Go check it out at and see what you think, or check out their promo video below to see more:

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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. 20 cities vs. what? They’ve got a lot of catching up to do to come close to GE’s global coverage.

  2. London looks amazing, both in texture and quantity of buildings. At least in this regard it is google that has to catch up.

  3. True they’ve got catching up to do as far as coverage is concerned, but they’ve only just started their 3D efforts!
    More importantly is that their 3D from 2D actually gives a 3D image, unlike Google Earth, which flattened the 3D images.
    Quality vs Quantity!

  4. Nice article. Ovi will find a niche, but will not extend very far any time soon. You cannot update the data without re-shooting the whole thing again. Correct?

  5. Micky – two questions, and grateful for your clarification:
    You say Ovi has no plug-ins, but your link opens to a page inviting installation of an Ovi plug-in?
    You also say that Bing has dropped 3D support, and presumably this is something different to the ‘crude’ 3D effect of Bird;s Eye, which is still there?

  6. Kevin — Good point. I assume they’d have to re-shoot the entire area again, but don’t know for sure. They said that they do manual touch-ups before they post model, so perhaps they could do some manual updates, too. Not sure.
    Chris — Good questions.
    1: Sorry I wasn’t clear on that. While they require the plug-in to view the map, I meant “plug-in” in the sense of extending the capabilities of the software, adding features, etc.
    2: Correct. They still have the crude 3D, but they used to have a pretty slick 3D globe that was quite similar to Google Earth, and that’s gone now.

  7. @ MIckey – many thanks for the clarification, and one is left wondering what the longer term business aims of Ovi are.
    Bing does have a useful feature in the UK not on Google – it provides the detailed 1:25.000 Ordnance Survey (national mapping agency) maps free on-line – quite a breakthrough in licensing terms – which have a lot of data like contours not on Google, and have appeal to the mapping purist.

  8. The C3 dataset looks fantastic from a good height, but is very poor down below a few hundred feet. The melting affect gives everything a creepy post-nuclear war appearance!!
    However a combination of this type of high-res terrain data alongside the GE individual model data would be fantastic.

  9. Dave Timpe says

    It’s an interesting start, at least. Several things are missing, including boundaries, street names, names of cities and towns below maybe 100,000 people. A quirk appears in downtown Lansing, MI, where they seem to have interpreted the tallest building in town as terrain. Maybe it’s related to the melting effect.
    I did find Microsoft’s Virtual Earth interesting. They had widespread crude 3d in a lot of places GE still doesn’t have it, but they never seemed to update anything, and I had lots of crashes and lockups. Their 3D on curved buildings and domes was particularly odd. The Michigan State Capitol building (again in Lansing) looked like a cross between cubism and surrealism. GE’s version is highly accurate.

  10. Dave Timpe says

    Another thing OVI seems to lack is the ability to type a location into a search box, which is an odd omission.

  11. Dave Timpe says

    Finally got around to looking at the 2D version, and there are streets, boundaries, search box, etc. all there, but when you switch to 3D, you zoom back out into space and lose your location.

  12. The number of modelled cities is a bit misleading. OVI covers absolutely massive areas. San Francisco stretches right down to San Jose. New York, all five boroughs and Jersey city.
    Does Google Earth have anything on this scale ?

  13. Ernst M. Kofler says

    Absolutely great job that Ovi did, compared to the other two known globes Bing and Earth. The Vienna model is absolutely great, and maybe this city has an improved data set so that the buildings are not that much melting. I really enjoy flying over my city and even can watch the parks and all vegetation on danube island which is absolutely unique. I wish I could spacenavigate this map soon. Phantastic thing, congrats to the developers of this technology.

  14. Paul van Dinther says

    First of all, there are two aspects about OVI maps 3D to judge. The data set and the viewer. I’d agree that the viewer is limited and crude at the moment but I am sure subsequent released will be much more impressive.
    However, the dataset is absolutely amazing and gives us a glimpse where this technology is heading. Map data is alive and forever changing. OVI has automated the 3D city map generation process which is a good thing. Buildings change, facades change and let’s face it. Not all the crowd sourced models are very accurate.
    Just for kicks, compare the manually build 3D googleplex in Google Earth with the one in OVI. In the google model the textures show a totally incorrect window layout.
    Bigger buildings tend to initially render in this “melted” look but I wonder if the screenshot was taken before all the data was loaded. Having said that, there are plenty narrow alleys that are messed up in OVI. It should not be too hard to cross reference road data with the mesh and fix such errors.
    OVI currently only raises a pixel on the ground in elevation. It is not hard to imagine that they will improve these algorithms and render trees so they overhang the streets. I expect a lot from this technology and as soon as there is an API then will be there to get stuck in.

  15. Here in Sweden we have had this for a long time but only over Sweden. It has a lot better 3D coverage than GE so here the site called has won, although we need GE for the global coverage.
    this is the site:http: // click “3D” then zoom down to a major city.

  16. Paul van Dinther says

    WOW! and this is running in Java! How come this never hit mainstream! How old is this stuff Kaj?

  17. Ovi Maps does have an API – have been using it for over 2 years and before that private beta.
    An you can overlay features!
    Driving Directions!
    KML can be convert into xml and overlayed too.
    You need to do a little bit more research before you post!

  18. Mapperz — I believe that’s only for the 2D maps. My research about the lack of KML support came from the mouths of Nokia staff, so I assumed they knew what there were talking about.
    Is there a way to use the API with the 3D maps?

  19. Ovi Maps API does support 3D Vector with the 3D Plugin
    Though do admit that Nokia could provide more Examples of their API.
    (expect more ovi maps news at the end of May)

  20. Thanks for all the positive comments about our datasets. Keep in mind that the algorithms are improving constantly. The online version is also compressed for streaming reasons so the original data is even better concerning geometry and texture resolution. And to Kevin: We have the ability to do local updates…

  21. Well, well…
    Let’s recognize that Google Earth has much more 3D data building information but the techniques used by Nokia takes all advantages over GE when we talk about mapping all the world. Soon the partnership Microsoft/Nokia will deliver, beyond smarthphones with Windows SO, new Flight Simulator game with incredible level of realism.
    Google needs to admit that Nokia are showing its power, as ever it did in the history.

  22. I would like to use 3D maps, and change the visual to give the user experience of flying from point A to point B. I can’t find 3D Map APIs, I’ve playing changing the URL’s parameters of a 3D map like this:|42.5257999|-70.8249996|17|80|72|
    The different parameters controls lat/long, zoom etc.
    But the problem is that you need to refresh the page every time you change any of the parameters making page rendered again and again too slow.
    Is there an API for 3D Maps (please don’t give the Vector API…I can’t no do anything with it)

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.