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 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?