Brian McClendon Gone, What’s next Google?

Since 2005, Google Earth has been one of the most popular applications on the planet – both literally and figuratively. It was the first, and best, application to enable you to explore our entire planet. Over a billion people have downloaded the application and zoomed in to see if they could see their past or current home, or explore exotic locations they have only dreamed of seeing in their lives. When Google first released it, they only had a small percentage of the Earth in high resolution. Now, virtually every metropolitan area in the world, every notable tourist destination, entire countries in most cases are not only covered in high resolution imagery, but also have higher resolution 3D terrain, and even 3D models for buildings and trees of hundreds of cities. The program even has a built in 3D flight simulator for free.

For the first 8 years after its release, Google continuously added new feature and capabilities to the program including the flight simulator, Google Moon, Google Mars, interactive tours, offline use, and the very useful historical imagery feature. These, and hundreds of other features added, have been documented here on Google Earth Blog, which has been a fan site from the beginning.

About two years ago, new features for the desktop application stopped being released. We expressed concern about this, but were re-assured by Google’s Brian McClendon, who has been the engineering manager behind not only Google Earth’s products, but also Google Maps products as well for a long time. He was also one of the head engineers behind the original development of the Google Earth product. He told us there was new development being done for Google Earth. And, this past October a complete re-write of the underlying Google Earth model was released in the form of a new Google Earth Android App. We expected a new desktop application would be developed soon thereafter – although, we knew it might take several months due to its complexity.

Google Earth 8 for Android
Google Earth 8 for Android sports all new 3D technology built from scratch.

Unfortunately, I recently heard that Brian McClendon is no longer running the Google Maps and Google Earth organization at Google. He has moved to some other project internally. This quietly happened at about the time late last year that there was a major shake-up at Google internally when Sundar Pichai was asked to take on more responsibility by Larry Page – CEO and co-founder of Google. I do not know for sure yet whether the timing was related.

It is not clear what this change means for the future of Google Earth. Recently we discovered Google Earth Pro was suddenly made free (and Google quickly announced this shortly thereafter). In my opinion, this is not a good sign. Google Earth is a wonderful product, but it needs to have as many sources of revenue as possible to justify itself to a publicly traded company like Google. Changes late last year to Google My Maps also weakened the tie between Google Maps and Google Earth.

I know there are millions of people who have found Google Earth invaluable for a multitude of reasons. I personally use it far more than most people, because I’m currently on a 5+ year sailing circumnavigation, and because I have been the publisher of this blog for the past 10 years. But, I’m also aware of the thousands of different things people, businesses, governments, movie makers, and many TV shows have used Google Earth for during this time. And, I know there are millions of people still using the application today.

I sure hope Google wouldn’t yank such a popular and very important product out from under us. But, Google has closed down other very popular products in the past – like Google Reader. The difference here, is that no other product exists that has both the features of Google Earth, and access to Google’s largest database of Earth-based geo-spatial information in the world.

So, I put it to Google, please tell us – your most faithful Google Earth fans – what are your plans for Google Earth. Are we still moving forward?

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. Gary Alexander says

    Google Earth is greatest program ever. When I build a new computer, first goes on the anti-virus program, then comes GE. I’ve used it to plot trips, and more importantly for research on old roads and alignments. I find Google Maps, with their forced 3D that takes 5 times as long to load, to be a royal pain in the ass.

  2. I have been reading this blog for many years now and I must say I have the same fears as you do. I remember getting very excited when Google Earth had an update with new features. As a geography major at university and a GIS intern, I find Google Earth to be an unparalleled geovisualization tool. I can even say that my countless hours of exploring its virtual globe in high school contributed significantly to my decision to major in geography. While Google Maps is acquiring more of Earth’s 3d features, it has a long way to go before I could consider it a worthy replacement. Google Earth gives the user better performance, more control, and more features.

    Google needs to state their intentions regarding the future of Google Earth. Given that Google is such a profitable company, I don’t understand why they would feel a need to cease development. If they do indeed kill Google Earth, then they need to make sure Maps can fill the void. Right now it can’t and it would be extremely disappointing if Google pulls the plug on such an irreplaceable product.

  3. Googles credo was and still is “Don’t be evil”. However, this sentence needs an addition. Until a few years ago, the additional statement would have been “Imagine, experiment and then implement new fascinating technologies, people will like it”. This is how GE could have made its way.
    Today, the sentence needs to be completed with “and make money with every piece of it”. GE does not produce sufficient cash influx for Google nowadays I guess. GE has no chance for large scale disturbing ad programs, no manipulative in-app purchases etc…

    Basically it looks to me that inside Google traditional Technology nerds have been more and more replaced by Business nerds with very different intentions, capabilities and career paths….

    Anyway, I still hope Google will publish APIs for Google Maps that allow powerful Earth browsing. With my own project, I heavily rely on the historic imagery feature currently not present in Maps. Without that feature, I will have to abandon my years long GE project. Also, I need a GE replacement that can swallow hundreds of thousands of placemarks, which definitely needs the natively OS-targeted compiled software Google unfortunately wants to get rid off (i.e. GE):

    I strongly doubt that the now favored In-Browser Javascript engines are powerful enough to handle large datasets like the GE PC version currently does. Browser GIS is nice until a certain degree, but as soon as datasets grow bigger (maybe a few 1000 Placemarks, which is still not a high volume at all!), In-Browser Javascript is a real pain!

    Ok, Google wants us to use (and pay) their cloud services including the KML optimized databases. Those are nice arrangements, but relying on cloud services makes implementing complex software really difficult (and expensive).

    As a developper, I also need frameworks that are conceived intelligently from scratch an then evolve over time without radical changes (like the V2 to V3 Maps Api change). Please Google, respect your users that want to employ your products in creative intelligent ways, not just for posting georeferenced selfies and finding the nearest hairdresser…

  4. Wow Frank, if even you can’t get a straight answer out of Google, who can.

    I am not upset with the path Google has taken despite heavy reliance on Google Earth. It was a great run.

    It is obvious that fat client applications are pushed out in favour of agile cloud based solutions.

    Developing solutions on cloud based API’s is like building on swamp land without foundations. You keep fixing things. It is therefore to be expected that API’s will be limited and dumbed down.

    The Google Earth API ran away from Google allowing for far more then Google ever envisaged. My work on proved this.

    So long and thanks for all the fish Google. We had fun.

  5. This is an important post as users attempt to understand Google’s approach to GE.

    But Google is no ordinary company as this insightful 2013 article from Guardian Tech argues
    OK, money probably matters more to Google now, but the idea that Google follows a scientific methodolgy in which products can be experiments ultimately terminated with a flourish, and in which communication is poor, is telling. The decade old GE would unfortunately fit this model, but more hopefully Google would see it as an iconic symbol of the company’s global reach.

    Of course there are no published balance sheets for GE nor any indication of its possible market value, but it was initiated outside Google part funded by intelligence services and presumably it could find a new home in a publicly supported organisation or elsewhere … meanwhile ‘street view’ camera cars leased by Apple are reported to be driving around San Francisco.

  6. Unfortunately I also think your concern is warranted. The updates for the last several years have been minor and mostly unimportant like the Google+ features. My only hope is that they’ll leave it available if they stop developing for it.

  7. I just noticed this today, that instead of satellite on, it now says earth and all maps in this view are subject to earth’s curvature. Google earth became the new satellite view?

    • This view zooms out to the familiar Google Earth globe which shows the latter’s current global cloud cover by default, but no stars in space. So is this the start of a merger of Maps and Earth, and if so how much of the additional GE content and functionality could effectively migrate to Maps? Could technical experts among the GEB readership speculate?

      • PS This Google Earth view in Maps is currently in Firefox but not in Safari (on a Mac). But then Maps is an all round poorer experience in Safari, with no 3D imagery and with Street View crudely pixellated at each lurch forward before clearing (spat over Apple maps?)

      • Timothy Whitehead says

        Everything in Google Earth can potentially be done in Maps. The key feature that currently makes Google Earth outperform Maps is the local cache. I am not sure how difficult it would be to implement a sizable local cache for a web app.

        • Well, I guess its a bit more than browser persistence (which can be easily tweaked). The problem is Javascript, which lags far behind truly compiled languages in many respects. The only cool thing is its integration into HTML and CSS:
          Also, delevoloping larger software projects in javascript ia really painful …

  8. it seems that Google is planning to abandon GE pro. they now have a coordination with esri to transit the GE pro customers to esri platform if the customers wanted to change.

    the link is here:

    • This line in that article is what convinced me that GE is definitely going away.
      “……. a way to support Earth Enterprise and Maps Engine customers as they become end of support products.”

  9. When people are enjoying, always someone cutting experience.
    parties get into Google?
    think 2 times. I do not trust


  10. Wow, thanks for the scoop, Frank. That is ominous news.

    Personally, my feeling is that the US military does not like the global public having access to so much amazing geospatial intelligence, and so they have prodded Google to tone down (or just shut down) the Earth project. They consider it a tactical vulnerability that the US is the most well-mapped and thoroughly modeled nation in Google Earth. In that sense, Google is doing “the enemy’s” work for them.

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      Even if Google Earth as we know it is shut down (which we certainly hope is not the case), the geospatial intelligence in the form of Google Maps and Street View shows no signs of being shut down. Google continues to roll out 2D and 3D imagery at an ever increasing pace, and continues to put a lot of effort into its mapping efforts – retaining its position as the best mapping product available despite stiff competition from other deep pocketed competitors. Our sincerest hope is that Google releases a new version of Google Earth that includes live Google Maps data as is the case with the Android version of Google Earth. The only geospatial intelligence unique to Google Earth is the historical imagery feature.

  11. Gary Unger says

    The writing was on the wall for me when the new Google Maps interface was introduced. Clearly pandering to business interests, search windows opening and cascading over the maps, paid advertiser locations to the front, no direct support for custom MyMaps, etc etc. I would be willing to pay for the app to just go back to where it was with all the related functionality…just pure mapping. This doesn’t seem like Google’s business model though. Apps are free, then make money with advertising. C’mon Google, save the darn purest, most innovative app ever created.

  12. I find Google Earth to be very valuable and enjoyable. In a long life I have seen lumps of the World, but there is much that I have never visited and this system enables me to explore and learn. For instance, having a wander round the back streets of small Thailand towns is an eye opener. When news emerges about events across the World, Earth lets you go and examine the local area, narrowly and widely. Recent news items about Hitler’s “Wolf’s Lair” in northern Poland, and seven people dying when a train hit a car on a rail crossing in USA, result in me taking just a brief time to find the locations and look at them from ground level. Also, I find Earth valuable for navigation, here in the USA every winter and at home in my UK Lincolnshire home every summer. You want to go to a store somewhere, sport stadium, private address to respond to a dinner or party invite? Locate it on Earth and you can see where local parking is easy, one way streets, and find landmarks like church towers which show you where to turn. Yes, navigators are built into a lot of cars now, but I find Earth gives me advance knowledge and that is better.

  13. Unfortunately I think the end is near for Google Earth as we know it and perhaps a 3D api aswell. As someone who has been a developer for a project utilizing the Earth API and paying for it via a Maps Enterprise subscription, the events of the last few months have been disheartening to say the least.

    For me the first warnings that the higher level 3D mapping services are in troubled waters was really when Sketchup was sold off to Trimble. Additionally the total halt of any new development on the API was a cause for concern.

    Things looked up a bit when the maps engine was announce, but it was short lived as it too has been recently axed in the last month. The full featured maps engine is incredibly powerful. allowing one to have raster imagery, along with vector and even custom terrain data pulled into earth and presumably the earth api (developer documentation seams almost non existent).

    I image it this was due to low sales for the service. I tried numerous times in the last year to get information on purchasing the maps engine service, hunting for a non existent phone number more time then a care to admit, and filling out the online “contact sales” form several times, and never receiving a response.

    The last episode was when I renewed a maps for business license a few months ago. I was able to get a Google Maps account rep on the phone, but they had no clue about maps engine. Almost zero knowledge, and suggested I try and contact a third party service provider for information.

    The recent speed at witch google has been axing things has been pretty abrupt.

    The Google Maps for flash API and Google Maps V2 API had, if memory serves me right, a 3 year depreciation policy. This seamed generously long, especially for the flash api. I think the only google maps flash api site I ever encountered was google own code example pages.

    In contrast, the earth api was rendered non functional in Google Chrome on Mac before the depreciation policy was announced in December, and in the last couple of weeks, 32 bit Google Chrome on Windows has removed its white list for plugins, which previously included the Google Earth API. The development of Chrome, IMO has taken on a bit of of ‘we need to destroy the village so we can save it mentality’, but I digress.

    The project I work on also has a ‘fall back’ option to use Google maps if the Earth plugin wasn’t installed and as such I experienced the transition from Google Maps V2 (which leverage Earth as a map type option) to Maps V3(which still does not have 3D as a map type option). The experience was completely different.

    Maps V2 was active with new features trickling out, and a V3 beta was announced in parallel so one could work with it long before V2 was depreciated.

    When V3 was promoted to production ready, the depreciation of V2 commenced, and one could roll out Maps V3 implementations that had a few months to develop under V3 beta

    There wan’t nearly the same level of ‘WTF is going on’.

    Currently I am re factoring things to leverage Cesium as a 3D geo Renderer, however as others have noted the speed of the earth API is hard to beat.

    Another problem is there is mixed support for webGL in browsers. IE 10 is still used a lot, and even a bit of IE 9. As a result I am need to implement something that switches between three API depending on what the client browser can support.

    – Google Maps V3 (No Earth plugin installed and no WebGL support) ,
    – Earth Plugin (best performance)
    – Cesium (No Earth plugin installed or supported and WebGL is support)

    Ironically in this scenario Google Chrome is becoming a crippled browser for 3D geo Mapping experiences on the desktop(32-bit , 64 bit chrome already is). Best 3D Geo browsing experience is with Google Earth API under Firefox or (I can’t believe I’m saying it) Internet Explorer.

    Cesium is relatively new API but what has been implemented so far is really good and getting better. The best part is that the development over the last few months has been very active. A refreshing change from the seemly abandoned Google 3D Geo API

    • All seems very gloomy, but what part of this indicates that the core content of Earth, updated very recently with new imagery and Street View and functioning as well as ever on my desktop, will not be available for the foreseeable future, albeit as an updated product, and is the problem mainly with unprofitable spin-offs and withdrawal of support? Or do you think that Google are really going to throw away the lot?

    • I take back what I say, Internet Explorer will still be a terrible web browser experience, the GE plugin needs to run under IE9 compatibility mode to work in IE

  14. I sure hope not. I’ve used GE almost every day since 2003 when it was Earthviewer before Google bought it. When I see how clunky and slow stuff like the new Google Maps interface is, I truly wonder how anyone uses it when GE is available.

    Pro going free doesn’t necessarily say much to me. The vast majority of GE users have always been free users. Keyhole Earthviewer was a subscription-based product. Making it free after buying Keyhole is what truly opened up GE to the masses in the first place

    I do think it’s true that PC application support for just about anything from Google is in considerable danger, as they work to emphasize mobile and tablets.

  15. I’m very worried about Google they seem to not reply to anything, they certainly need an ambassador of some kind. Google earth is so popular and yet it is being pulled with out anyone to answer questions or concerns. They updated Gmail last December & it’s caused people to lose all there contact information & important mail & yet there has been no reassurance that it will be solved? This is 3 months after no fix. What would happen if they rolled out an Android update that did that and never bothered to fix it this is to important to ignore

  16. Vladimir Cvajniga says

    I love Google Earth! I have hundreds of walk routes in My Places and I also have plans to enlarge the collection. I can’t imagine I’ll be left without Google Earth.
    Google, please let GE run.

    P.S. Sorry for my English.

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.