Google Releases Pretty Earth

Google has just this morning released a new, prettier, version of the Earth for Google Earth. The short version is that it now looks much more Earth-like and less like a bunch of satellite and aerial photos patched onto a sphere. And, it really does look MUCH better!
Since Google Earth was first released in 2005, Google has made thousands of changes to their imagery. Changes to how the imagery looks (colors, contrast, lighting) when combined so it has a more pleasant look from space. One of the most frequent comments about Google Earth is “why are these ugly patches of rectangular images on the Earth?”. Well, Google has released today a new attempt to address the problem.
Some of the changes Google has attempted to its imagery were not successful. For example when they attempted to cut images that showed away from the coastlines which removed a lot of valuable information. Google later provided access to that valuable imagery in in the historical imagery layer. Or the time they tried changing the colors in a detrimental way, which they quickly removed a few days later.
Today, Google has finally combined many different attempts, and suggestions from the Google Earth user community, and implemented a major change to the imagery that greatly improves the look of Google Earth. The most obvious change is that the “patchwork” of random-looking rectangles of imagery from different sources is no longer obvious. But, Google’s new imagery is much more dramatic than is obvious. They have altered nearly all the imagery of the Earth and made major improvements to the contrast, lighting, and consistency of the imagery at all levels. And, they have used features inherent to Google Earth’s abilities to transition at different zoom levels to smoothly move between imagery that is very pleasing to the eye.
These changes are subtle if you don’t have access to the way things looked before.
Here are some comparison shots showing the dramatic change before and after in just a few places:

GE screenshot US
Before/After USA

GE screenshot US
Before/After Africa

GE screenshot US
Before/After China

As you can see, the improvement is dramatic when you compare the old to the new. But, once most people start using this, they’ll probably quickly forget how it used to be and just accept the new look. However, we should really appreciate the huge effort Google has made to pretty up the Earth, and thank them for a job well done!

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.


  1. Most of this patchwork removal was done using a method other than a manual edit of the base imagery. You can see it best at work in the UK in places where you can see clouds while zoomed out.
    As you zoom in you’ll see those clouds disappear entirely. The method simply displays a low resolution map when you’re zoomed out far enough to not see any small details. As you zoom in, it will change over to the higher resolution maps. Even in places such as Illinois there comes a point where one zooms in far enough to suddenly notice small details change.
    Most of the color balancing is actually ‘on the fly’ as well. Look at the area to the west of Peoria, Illinois for an example. If you stay zoomed well out the area looks green. As you zoom in you will notice the colors shifting towards the brown of the actual base image. The base image is actually untouched, but they blend the colors to the base image as you zoom in.

  2. nacer ami ali says:


  3. nacer ami ali says:


  4. nacer ami ali says:

    there are a lot of new things changed on google earth and i like it so much,,,but please update a new imagery for Africa?thank you …

  5. Leonardo Daniel Leidi says:

    There are a lot of new things changed on google earth and i like it so much, but please update a new imagery for LATIN AMERICA,too, specially Colombia and Argentina. Add Street View in these countries and cities in 3D Building Maker.

  6. It looks good, but it has one disadvantage: the patchwork was a great help in finding updated areas after any imagery update, or even in noticing that an imagery update had taken place.
    And now that we noticed (earlier this month and last year) that the KMZ’s are not really reliable in indicating updated areas, we have a chance that an updated area will not be noticed.

  7. “A job well done” – on the evidence so far from the familiar territory of the British Isles, I agree.
    No major downsides, the patchworks in Ireland and Scotland has largely gone, the areas of very dark imagery which have been becoming more common have improved, but the areas of ‘default’ low res imagery remain untouched and there are ‘oddities’
    – clouds vanish on zooming, but not if on the highest res imagery
    – there is greater visual evidence of imagery ’tiles’ when zooming
    – brightness/colours can change quite significantly on zooming
    but this is clearly a consequence of variety in the base material, and no doubt will be addressed in future.

  8. They really need to get on with updates though. The last decent view of where I live in Cambridge is nearly 6 years old (there is one that is only 4 years old but it’s really poor quality). It’s got to the point that for some things it’s now not really worth using as it’s so out of date.
    E.g Looking at towns and villages where new estates have been built, and have been there for 5 years are just empty fields on Google.

  9. @Maarten: You make a good point about being able to find new imagery. It might be possible to use the Historical Imagery layer to help. But, I’m not sure this will reveal the newest imagery the way we expect. I’ve already had communications with Google about this and they are aware the changes will effect those hunting for new imagery.

  10. @ Maarten @ Frank Taylor – although the loss of imagery ‘patchiness’ as a means of detecting updates is probably immaterial to the mass of GE users it is a big downside to the enthusiast.
    To add to my earlier comment on brightness/colour change, further checks show that this can fluctuate on zooming, so is there some sort of multiple layering in the new presentation?

  11. And how can we find now new imagery?

  12. The good news is that this “pretty Earth” effect (which I like) can be disabled by turning on Historical Imagery. This should also answer Andreas Möller’s question 🙂

  13. No, turning on historical imagery does not answer the question. New imagery takes several days to appear in the historical imagery. In fact it usually appears on the same day their imagery update network link is updated.
    For now, if they hold to the same schedule the only way to search is to go to specific locations and look for differences between GE and Maps. It is considerably more time-consuming, but seriously Google Earth was not created so people could spend time looking for new imagery. It was created for us to see places in a new perspective or to have a new tool for a variety of tasks or just to have fun looking at places and learning a little more about them.
    This update will make Google Earth look dramatically better when people want to create animations from tours, and it will look good especially when television news programs use it. The patchwork never looked good when I saw a reporter use GE to show a location where a story was happening.
    Updates like give professionals a greater reason to use the tool, and that gives us a greater assurance that it will be around for us to enjoy for a good, long while.

  14. anonymous says:

    They missed a spot on Savannah, GA!

  15. Detecting imagery updates – a suggestion: it is still possible to keep an eye on ephemeral features (construction sites, ships in port, field crops, etc) in frequently visited places to spot any change, double check with imagery dates, then contact GEB. Clearly this is not a way to make widespread searches, but if posted on GEB it would alert other readers to make checks and to notify updates by comments.

  16. I think Google really needs to work on removing clouds from the imagery you see when zoomed out, especially in South America. In Ecuador for example, there is a band of cloud 30 miles wide and 200 miles long. Or if you look at Bogota, Colombia, it is totally covered with cloud when zoomed out, but when you zoom it awkwardly fades away.

  17. There are serious cloud issues in the base imagery in Central America and northern South America (Ecuador being particularly annoying), Gabon and neighboring areas, Indonesia and the southern tip of Chile.
    Cities needing cloud free base imagery include Moscow, Bogota, Belo Horizonte and Panama City.

  18. There are serious cloud issues in the base imagery in Central America and northern South America (Ecuador being particularly annoying), Gabon and neighboring areas, Indonesia and the southern tip of Chile.
    Cities needing cloud free base imagery include Moscow, Bogota, Belo Horizonte and Panama City.


    I hadn’t noticed the change until I read this… weird..
    Anyway, for those saying the patch work would help them locate recently updated imagery, didn’t you read the whole blog? you can revert the change by clicking the history toolbar icon.

  20. This is just a choice issue. For the general public, a seamless view is understandably more appealing and useful. FYI – People at GeoSage made a 30m-resolution global mosaic (single file 2.3TB!) with the same seamless effect, e.g.

  21. @ that1amonymousdude – yes, you can the get the patchwork picture of, say Ireland, by going to historical imagery. But surely the idea has been to spot an update in the CURRENT imagery by a change in appearance, now much less easy in the seamless GE.
    @ Kevin – sure you are right about popular appeal, but GE is not entirely seamless – visible patches still exist. contrast and colour fluctuate on zooming, and imagery tiles seem more apparent – but technically a success considering the huge variety of imagery in the patchwork.

  22. Job well done? In those places where the colour difference between the base texture and the high res texture is too big (most places, i would say), the transition during zooming is very ugly. Little coloured blocks are popping around as the high res texture is loading. Until now zooming was very smooth, and i preferred that over a little cosmetic improvement. At least it should be optional, enabling the historical imagery is not going to help much since the base texture is basically nonexistent there.

  23. My background is “all triangles” and other polygons. I just got a different computer and installed GE. I have checked settings such as resolution, and tried it on two different monitors with the appropriate settings checked twice.
    How can i send a screen shot to you?

  24. Bob Perdriau says:

    I’ve dld Google Earth 6.2 several times on two computers. An iMac running the last version of Snow Leopard and a MBP running the latest version of Lion. The program simply quits on startup – sometimes with a message to that effect & sometimes with no message.
    I’ve read the limited trouble-shooting info on Google but none of it helps and most of it I can’t utilize anyway because the program does not run.
    Any help much appreciated.

  25. I just want to say thank you for this wonderful tool. My disabled husband and I spend alot of time at home and this is our way of traveling. My many, many thanks for allowing us to use your tools and for free.

  26. mike foote says:

    I’m a tour guide for the Grand Canyon National Park and adjacent areas . There have been numerous occasions I’ve used Google Earth to explain and showing areas in which I’m touring . W/o updated HD imagery, it’s tougher to visualize . Grand Canyon Park get’s 6 million tourist’s visiting the park annually , and at my office, many foreigners like to view google earth to get an idea where to go next . Let’s get these images up to date . the current images are 6 years old .

  27. How can I request an updated image… of Todos Santos area of Baja Sur Mexico? Is possible to pay for an updated image?

  28. the navigation controls in the upper right corner onto the map, similar to how to access Street View in Google Maps.

  29. the shadow is presumably there somewhere, but lost amongst the detail of houses and gardens.

  30. as that’s when the icons disappeared. Don’t worry, though, as Street View is still in there

  31. Google Earth South of Mombasa Kenya has not been updated since 2005. Ridiculous.

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