First Review of New Google Earth

New York 3D in New GE

New York 3D in New GE

Google has released a new version of Google Earth today that has been re-designed for a new generation of 3D mapping applications. This first release is not a program you have to download and install on desktop OSes (Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook). It is a web application that loads in your browser. Specifically, this will load today only in Chrome browsers. But, this means that platforms like Chromebooks will now be able to run a version of Google Earth for the first time, and support for Linux should be more robust (where Chrome is available – and other specs required). And, there is a mobile app as well (the Chrome version will not work on Chrome for mobile). The mobile app appears to be fully as capable as the Chrome version, but is only available for Android so far. So, Apple users will have to wait until an IOS app becomes available.

The new Google Earth version is only a subset of the legacy Google Earth (let’s call it classic Google Earth – version 7 or lower) in terms of features. But, it has obviously been carefully designed for a beautiful, user-friendly experience that is remarkably consistent between the desktop and mobile. It also looks a lot more like current Google Maps, so it is consistent with new interface design. This version makes it easier to discover new content, and visualize the 3D imagery of cities and other places that Google has been adding the last few years. This seems to be the primary focus of this release. You also have access to Street View imagery (and user-contributed photospheres) and can share links to specific Street Views.

From what we have seen, the speed moving around is comparable to the desktop Classic GE. This is significant as we expected there might be a performance hit compared to a dedicated install application. Google must have worked wonders to make this happen. We will do more analysis in the coming days, but I did some quick checking on frame update rates and it was comparable in performance between the web version to classic GE in tests on my laptop here. The user interface is not quite as fluid on the web as classic GE (more on this in a later post).

Feeling lucky?

There is a cool new feature that lets you push a “dice” icon that is the Google search equivalent of “Feeling lucky?” that randomly flies you to an interesting place on the Earth and provides a knowledge card about that place. The knowledge card can be clicked on to expand and share other relevant data and other places of interest surrounding it. This is a wonderful tool in my opinion as it will encourage people to explore in new ways.

Voyager

The new GE has a ship helm wheel icon that is labeled “Voyager” that is a new way to explore a wealth of content Google has collated for interesting places and things on Earth. They are like a tour of information about a topic which fly you to interesting places relevant to the topic. There appears to be a huge amount of information available.

KML Support Still in Early Stages

The new Google Earth does support KML. However, it is not a complete implementation yet. Google says they plan to implement more KML features in future updates. It also is not as easy to load KML content on the browser version. You have to go to “My Places” and click on a link to import KML you want to load. And, you have to have the file already downloaded. We will be researching what KML features work with the new GE and report on our tests.

Things Missing, Don’t Worry

This release of the new Google Earth is missing most of the creation tools more serious fans of classic GE like to use. All the features from classic to create KML content are basically not available. Also, a long list of important features are missing like measuring distances, historical imagery, time animations, tours, GPS tracking, Flight Simulator, and more. The good news is that classic GE will still be available, so you can continue to use it if you enjoy those features. And, you’ll be able to create KML content with it that can be shared with new GE. Google says future versions of the new GE will implement “many” of the missing features. No promises on all of them of course. At some point, the new GE might meet, and even exceed, the features of classic – and classic will probably stop being supported at that point. One feature they must implement though is support for the 3D mouse called SpaceNavigator. Serious fans of classic GE know this device is the best way to fly through 3D data. I made sure to point this out to Google – but, they already know it because lots of Googlers use it too.

Conclusions

As expected, this new Google Earth will not be a replacement for the classic Google Earth. There are too many powerful features built into GE’s 12 year-old system to implement all at once. But, the new Google Earth does an excellent job of providing a new generation experience for exploring the Earth with a wealth of new ways to experience our beautiful planet. And, it accomplishes the goal of moving the application from a legacy platform of different programs for different OSes (which have to be downloaded and installed) to a web-based model (with the exception of mobile) which can be updated transparently and quickly.

We will be reporting in more detail as we look at things more closely. But, we are impressed with this first release. We hope the public at large will really like the new application and maybe re-discover classic Google Earth’s more powerful features if they want to do more. If all goes well with its popularity, I’m sure Google will work hard to implement more features and capabilities in the new GE.

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.



Comments

  1. One big piece of sh….t.
    Only desktop app is worth something. Usualy web apps is completly useless.
    They always slower, and with less functions than desktop apps…..

    • Frank Taylor says:

      This release of the new Google Earth platform proves that more serious applications can be made to run quite well in a web browser. As I said in the review, the performance from a graphics perspective (even with highly complex 3D city models) was comparable to the classic GE desktop application on the same machine.

      • Ccomparable? Try to load myplaces, even if is is not full supported now. Try to load kml only with points. Worse than this web something is that I think they quit to dev normal desktop app 🙁

    • Tony Carr says:

      Don’t have and will not have Chrome on my machine until it provides the option to put tabs ‘not on top’.

      • For me Chrome is best and fastest browser. But web apps is always slow, and I hate to run something else than webs in browser.

  2. I’m not surprised Google has a long storied legacy of announcing half baked unfinished products. Only completing them once enough users loudly complain in public forums. No wonder the company continues to bleed their best talents. Long live Classic Google Earth.

  3. Hey bro, don’t be hating too quickly. This is still good, they are still doing something with GE. Maybe will keep the dream alive for GE in general. This is a start.
    The potential for sweet sharp custom tours is awesome. If they make it EASY to build tours like the BBC earth ones that would be great.
    The only thing is… yes it is simplistic in comparison to the desktop version. And yes I will cry like a baby if all the amazing functionality is dumped out.

    Oh i was so hoping for the desktop version to get some nice ui updates along with some tour building/placemark designing features.

    I tried opening a kmz placemark with balloon & relative images links…..it a no go atm. 🙁

  4. Very disappointed – this is Google Earth Lite at best, but without KML and wider availability on Apple’s OS’s it really isn’t worth spending any time on this. It is more of a consumption/entertainment website rather than a useful/utility.

  5. Google is doing with Google Earth what did with Panoramio and Picasa. Soon will close the service to work only with google maps.

    • ben reuter says:

      That’s what I’m expecting too. It all ends at google map. So bye bye history layer. Google is following the downgrading like bings…good old times

  6. Pierre-Yves says:

    They’ve finally found a way to correctly drape imagery at the poles. Nice!

  7. Any indication of weather their will be a new Google Earth API?

  8. in Chromium browser, also requires WebGL graphics acceleration

  9. More disappointed in Google with this than I have been before with things they do. Also, despite reading twice I don’t believe I saw any mention in the article about IE and Edge – nothing on that?

    • Frank Taylor says:

      None of the other browsers currently support the NaCL (Native client) platform that this release is based on. I believe they are hoping that Webassembly will advance enough to make it possible to run on more browsers, but it currently isn’t ready.

  10. When I’m import all Myplaces, this crappy web app frezzes my browser.

    • Frank Taylor says:

      This first release only implements some of the complete KML standard. I was assured by Google that they are working hard to implement a full implementation of KML on the new GE platform.

      • Let’s hope “working hard to implement full KML functionality” is not Googlespeak for “in a few years time”… ;0)

        Without full .KMZ & .KML functionality, this new version is all but useless to me, so it is “carry on with the existing PC based version as if nothing has changed at all” for the foreseeable future.

        Ho-hum.

  11. I don’t like it. Some features are neat, but not overwhelming. I was sad, when Picasa went. Panoramio also not working anymore and now GE lost many of it’s features. I expected a lot from new GE. And I got lots. Disappointments.

  12. Performance right now is slightly sluggish compared to the standalone application. Not unusably slow, but just a bit muzzled. Which certainly is expectable, considering this runs in a browser, but then, why run this in a browser to begin with? That’s of course a strategic decision internal to the company, who in their infinite google-eyed wisdom again tries to fix something that wasn’t broken and “disimproves” it in the process. I don’t care how much magic they have to pull off to make this run in a browser – performance will get worse as more proper options will be included, and will ALWAYS be a lot worse and hardware-hungry than the standalone application. The overhead is just too enormous.

    It says quite clearly right upfront “This is the new Google Earth”, which of course can very well be interpreted to mean “THIS is Google Earth now” i.e. support for the old standalone application will go away eventually. I cannot see how this is not going to be so much worse than it was before. Anything touted to “surprisingly” run in a web browser tends to be a glosssy tech-demo case of “wow!” for people who casually glance at it, while it’s a huge steaming pile of baloney for users who actually use a product of this magnitude and importance in a serious and productive manner.

    Make no mistake, they WILL destroy the widely used and highly useful and usable tool, and “strategically” push this new web-based crap. They’ve done this to other things before, they will do it here. They never disappoint, as far as that goes. Thanks for nothing, Google. Go have intercourse with yourself.

    • If anything you should make your opinions known to the person responsible. Rebecca Moore, Director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Earth Outreach for Google. She’s the individual touting how this new web based Google Earth has been in development for two years without giving any guidance on what is to become of the features of the desktop application. I can’t locate her e-mail address at Google but her twitter handle is as follows. @rebeccatmoore

      I’m afraid the Google trend of over producing over simplified applications at the cost of functionality is continuing — Google Earth has become a novelty item rather than a tool.

      • It really won’t make any difference, I’m afraid. I’ve contacted people before, to no avail (and I’m definitely more on the constructive “savvy power user” side of things, not a “ranting hater nerd” that’s best ignored by any means). Decisions like these are higher-level management cases and made first and foremost to benefit the company profile, not to “please your users” or to “aid humanity” or anything. Unless any criticism or backlash would imply serious repercussions financially or legally and significantly hurt the reputation (such as placing ads next to extremist videos resulting in a media shitstorm making ad partners boycott you), nothing is going to change their mind or change the direction this is going. They won’t care.

        This isn’t some sort of Picasa. There are tons of alternative competing options to choose from and to migrate to when a software product/service like Picasa becomes useless or goes away completely. You can’t when it comes to GE, there is nothing else quite like it. Google Earth is unique in many ways and really without competition. Because of its global nature and its quality of data, because of its ease of use and deployment (as anyone who’s ever used other professional GIS software can attest to), because of its relatively moderate hardware requirements, and more. It’s indispensible, it has unprecedented and widespread usefulness in all sorts of serious fields and research disciplines. Geology, biology, astronomy, archeology. Disaster relief, environmental protection, urban planning. I could go on, obviously. And you just know they’re going to carelessly screw it up and break all that. The writing’s on the wall already, and it’s a damn shame.

        I’m an optimist by nature, but not anymore when it comes to companies like Google and the way they decide to alter or shut down useful products and services at a whim.

  13. Now we only waiting to shutdown GE servers, and thats the end of most powerful earth browsing aplication. And as Markus said: again tries to fix something that wasn’t broken and “disimproves” it in the process. Good bay Google Earth, there is even no chance no bypass somehowe GE sign in process to use imaginery data from other source.

  14. This web-based “Google Earth” is a disappointment.
    I hope that Google keeps supporting the Google Earth Pro desktop application … it is far superior!

  15. Thanks to Frank for referring me to this – “There is a help forum thread which might contain tips for helping with this: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!category-topic/maps/zCI7TX18OWk” – it finally got me up & running with this Web based version of GE.

    First observation is that it definitely runs slower – navigation for me is much more jerky & glitchy than with the PC based version (have maxed the memory option on Web based version too) & loading of 3D locations also seems a lot slower.

    Second observation is that I CAN import all my .kmz, .kml placemarks (yay!) but to have them displayed at all requires you clicking on each and every one of the display buttons within a folder of placemarks (boo!). It seems there is no option as yet for selecting the option ALL to initially set or remove the display buttons for what can be hundreds of placemarks in a folder (of course, once you initially have clicked on each & every individual button per placemark to display them, you can then simply turn the folder they sit within ON or OFF to act as a batch switch of sorts).

    Third observation confirms what others already have discovered – that you cannot edit in any way the information attached to those placemarks that you can display in the Web version – which means ultra-Lite version is going to be pretty useless for most serious users like us until such functionality is included. I see this version as mostly for kids & schoolers, but even they are going to be sadly disappointed the moment they try to edit or display lots of placemarks! No Can Do…..

    Due to the performance issues, I just hope like hell they don’t trash support for the current PC based version EVER…well, certainly not BEFORE all the functionality & at least equal performance of the current PC version can be ported across. Otherwise, I sense a Disturbance In The Force might ensue…

    • Frank Taylor says:

      In terms of performance, the graphic update rate (FPS) is very close to the same between classic and the web version on machines I’ve tested. For example, I get 120 Hz updates on the same 3D city (once it is cached) on both classic and web (Note: this is on my fastest gaming machine with NVIDIA GTX 1080Ti, but similar performance comparisons on older machines – just not at 120 Hz). Also, 3D city data actually loads faster on the web version. What you are probably seeing is “jerky” behavior due to device input (probably mouse). It’s especially noticeable if you use scroll wheel to zoom. For some reason, Google has not implemented interpolated animations between mouse inputs. For example, if you use the “orbit” (2D/3D) button, the motion looks smoother. That’s because it is animating at full speed. Classic GE moves very fluidly if you use the click/hold right mouse button to move around a spot. It’s all animated input. I’ve recommended to Google they need to do something about this – and, of course, implement the SpaceNavigator especially.

  16. BUGGY AS SIN! Looked nice in first overview but when attempting to get directions between two known-to-me locations over 700 miles apart it took an excessive amount of time, showed me an overview map with no obvious track (discovered it was thin blue line hidden in the satellite image) and when attempting to access preferences to improve route visibility, started the path towards a complete crash, eventually losing all imagery.

    Would be nice to have “home” imagery newer than 4 years old, too. A lot has changed where I live in the last four years.

  17. “Google says future versions of the new GE will implement “many” of the missing features.”

    Sorry but that’s completely unbelievable. They were saying the same stuff about the end of Picasa, about Panoramio etc. They always do something “new” but instead of fixing the many many old bugs and creating a new, stable platform, they start anew with something that has only 10% of the features and is basically not good for anything.

    “My” Google Earth has so many network layers for local and external services, I can show a real wealth of (real-time) information about this planet. This goes way beyond simply looking at the planet.

    I really don’t know what’s wrong with Google. They have so many experienced developers, designers, product managers. But they keep missing the point again and again and again.

    • So I’ve played around with it a bit more and sorry, but this is nothing else than a bit of a tech demo. It’s not really different from the 3D mode of Google Maps as well. You can’t do anything productive with it and in most places you can see satellite + 3D buildings but that’s it. No interaction, nothing.

      Also indeed it IS slower than Google Earth Classic, unless you just started Chrome. But with Chrome being open all day with many tabs Google Earth Classic performs SO MUCH better. Not just speed when moving around, but also when downloading 3D data. And I’m on a 200 mbit/s line. Classic also has real local cache, the option to disable 3D buildings when not needed etc.

      What a fail.

      • SortingHat says:

        It’s for mobile users what else do you expect? A full PC program?

        Phone users it’s too complicated to do the things you want on it like that they won’t handle it and will just complain “Wahhhh too many buttons what do I do?” and Google doesn’t believe in customer service.

        Plus it will slow the phone way down and use up your minutes as fast as Dumbledore gives Gryffindor house points.

        Sorry but no.

        • But who said they are supposed to have the same solution for phones? Who needs Google Earth on phones anyway? What can you do with this what Google Maps with satellite+3D cannot?

    • Gosh, this product is so utterly stupid. How in the world is Google always talking to web developers and telling them how to use web technologies, when they themselves have no idea how to design a good product???

      Try to select the layers for the “custom” map style. You can’t click on the text as layers, only on the checkboxes. Selecting all checkboxes within a group doesn’t change the checkbox of the group to active.

      You can “add” KML/KMZ but drag&drop doesn’t work.

      You can’t hide modal windows when clicking anywhere on the darkened background.

      And these are just 3 very basic mistakes in their very simple “new” Google Earth with almost no functionality. Do not tell me that they worked for years on this. At least not on the frontend. I can understand that generating all the data and providing it quickly worldwide via lots of data centers is complex. But why do they always fail on the frontend at Google?

      • Also they don’t capture keyboard input of CTRL+F to use their map search. Opening standard Chrome search achieves absolutely nothing on a map.

        • Frank Taylor says:

          The keyboard shortcut for Search on this version of Google Earth is “/” key. You can also find the other shortcuts by typing “?”.

          • That doesn’t work either though on Windows. “/” has no effect, CTRL+”/” jumps to tab 7. ALT+”/” nothing. But SHIFT+”/” opens search with “/” as input. Useless. 0,01% of their users would try that, while they know about CTRL+F.

            Also: Why use Page up/down instead of +/- to zoom? The rest of the keyboard shortcuts is mostly meaningless as well. And why hide them in a separate FAQ?

            But hey, why use standards when you can do custom solutions? That’s what this team of Google seems to think while their web dev teams talks very differently. Big company, same problems as in every behemoth. Slow, low output, inconsistent, not thinking about the end user anymore. Hence, a new Google Earth, that’s not good for anything than slowly navigating to a place and simply looking at it.

            Ok, actually I should rather be delighted about Google’s “new” product since I’m working on my own solution.

  18. SortingHat says:

    In other words let’s dumb it down for mobile users and give the finger to power PC users! Oh boy!

    It’s like going from a Ferrari to an imitation that’s actually just a little economy car but it looks like an Ferrari so it must be as good! Then there will be the *apologists* vs the haters of said cars which only the extreme sides get any views.

    I don’t hate mobile phones as they are great for communication but trying to fool people into making it a *computer in your pocket* is asinine. It’s like saying “I’ve got a rocket in my pocket!” and you pull out a little 6 inch model that doesn’t even light up.

    Sure smartphones have computer chips but computers have been able to do so much more then apps though without much development computers are now seen as just a FPS gaming machine by the majority.

    If all your going to use computers for is FPS games and chat online then get an Xbox One as you’ll be happier.

  19. This is the result of development production teams all deciding that phone users can’t handle too many buttons/options so keep it plain and simple. In the minds of developers nobody uses PC’s anymore except to play Assasians Creed and it’s 500 sequels/DLC.

    The people left only know how to program for phone OS not a regular computer which is way more complicated and demanding.

  20. Markus is correct:
    It’s indispensible, it has unprecedented and widespread usefulness in all sorts of serious fields and research disciplines. Geology, biology, astronomy, archeology. Disaster relief, environmental protection, urban planning.

    I am using Google Earth as a reseach tool for years. The chrome version is really no better than Google Maps, and just as useless as a research tool.

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