Sad Lack of Visible Progress on Google Earth for Chrome and Mobile One Year Later

A year ago, Google held a fancy venue in a New York museum to announce the next grand release of Google Earth. A complete re-write of the underlying application which finally unified the Google Maps (more current) mapping data with a formerly independent (and aging not-updated) dataset used by Google Earth on the desktop for years. The good news is that the application ran surprisingly well in Chrome and on Android (as mentioned in my review). The bad news, for a lot of veteran fans of Google Earth on the desktop, was that most of the tools most valued (measuring tools, content creation tools, GPS support, and much more), and a great deal of support for Google Earth content, was missing in the first release of the new platform. The focus for the first release was to get basic browsing, and to support the new “Voyager” exploration tools to allow more web-like dynamic content to overlay the geographic content to tell “stories”. I was assured by Google that a lot of effort was going in to incorporate missing power features for the fans of Google Earth. In the meantime, Google assured us they would continue to support the desktop version, and they have indeed (as mentioned here).

For a while after the event, I attempted to calm down the reactions from long-time fans. But, in Google’s attempt to highlight their “accomplishments” with the first release, they downplayed the value of the more powerful and useful version for the desktop on their home page with a single link (still true today) that said “Older version” (they changed that finally to say “Earth Pro for Desktop”). I suggested to them they should give it more prominence, but that didn’t really happen. And, the reality is that after waiting about 5 years for new Google Earth capabilities, the new version was a disappointment to its fans. Eventually, my frustration grew to a point that this blog was essentially stopped after 12 years of almost daily posts. After the wonderful way Google Earth grew in the first 8 years or so after it was launched, and the fantastic support Google gave to its huge growing fan base, it was disheartening to watch how this next phase in development started. I’ve been waiting for a sign that things would get better.

Unfortunately, there has been little sign of improvement to the Google Earth for Chrome/Mobile version as an application. Although, I’m sure they did a lot of behind-the-scenes work tweaking performance and fixing issues as people started using it. The biggest positive visible change I’ve noted was the addition of the new photos layer for the new Earth platform. But, there have been no additions of useful basic geographic tools as promised (rulers, GPS support, etc.). There were also a number of promoted content releases using Earth for Chrome like the Live Bear Cam, stories about the Amazon, and the expected release of the Apple IOS version of the new Earth app in August 2017.

The new photos layer is a sad comparison to the former Panoramio layer which had a vast curated collection of georeferenced photos globally. I used the Panoramio layer extensively to help research places we traveled around the world. But, early this year, the much-loved Panoramio layer in the desktop version of Google Earth Pro was mothballed in favor of this new layer. The old icons of the Panoramio photos can still be seen, but you can’t see the photos. And, it’s clear comparing the new photo icons that there were far more useful Panoramio photos (many locations have photos that the new layer does not). Rumor has it Google was going to incorporate many of the Panoramio photos in the new layer. But, now months later nothing visible has changed there.

Who knows, maybe Google is working hard on new exciting features for the new Chrome/Mobile platform? But, I’m not hearing about it on the ground or in rumors. And, yes, I’ve asked. I still regularly use the desktop version of Google Earth Pro. And, I do like using the web version if for no other reason than the fact it has more accurate map data to overlay on it, and because I’m impressed it runs so well in a browser. Maybe Google has continued to work on a strategy to port to other browsers. Maybe they have made a ton of progress on new features, but they just aren’t far enough along to release any of them.

I have this sense that the release of the new version has only depressed the former popularity of Google Earth only further. This despite Google search trends show it stagnating at most. In part, because nearly all the developers of the formerly more powerful desktop version have left since the development tools are no longer functioning, or have no promise of future support. And, also, because so many long-time fans have also gone missing. Or maybe because my blog is no longer active.

On the bright side, a different team at Google has done amazing work with Google Earth VR. Here is the official Google Earth VR website. It’s the most amazing new version of Google Earth I’ve seen in years. But, it’s use is sadly limited to a very small segment of people who have invested in VR for the desktop PCs (mostly Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but also a growing list of other headsets will be capable of supporting it). And, a growing number of venues (museums and VR arcades) offer Google Earth VR. Good news is that VR headset prices have come down a lot in the last year, and desktop PCs that support the platform are more common.

Finally, good news is that Google has continued to support the addition of more and better content to view in Google Earth (more Street View, more 3D Cities, etc.). It’s still the largest, most amazing view of the Earth you can get – outside of going places in person. I hold on to a few rays of hope.

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.

Comments

  1. I saw in this article about 3D. There are many areas that are not 3Ded and I wonder why. Also I noticed that the souce methodology for reading ground elevations are not that accurate. Example. Behind my house is a river and my property slopes toward that river. The source has a big 50+ foot rise between my house and the river. Conclusion is that it is reading trees as ground. Ergo, the 3D of the buildings are also off. Any thougts or news in this area of GE’s source data?.

  2. 3Ded? I just want a map that matches reality.

  3. Google Earth for Chrome no longer works for me, but it works well on my tablet.

  4. Probably some good news on the side is that the standalone Google Earth for Desktop continues to be updated, I think the last minor update was in February. So that’s good.

    But the whole Photos debacle is leaving me somewhat stumped. The Panoramio layer, while certainly not perfect, was a terrific substitute to GE particularly (but not only) in places without Street View coverage. The new Photos layer is damn near useless in comparison, full of photos that show nothing contextually worthwhile (such as portraits of people, closeups on small things, animals, furniture or paintings, etc.), clearly have once upon a time been uploaded as a commercial ad by a local business owner, and/or are way off geographically (as in “miles away”). And no means in sight for me as a user to at least drop them a note and suggest a correction on it respectively. All the while the old EMPTY Panoramio layer is still being kept around as if to mock us. It’s so unbelievably bad, I don’t know what to say. I had to turn the layer off because I was getting dizzy from constantly shaking my head in disbelief…

    • The first time I tried to use the new Photos layer, I viewed a photo from “France” which actually came from Russia.

    • Frank Taylor says:

      @Markus, I totally agree with your comments about the new Photos layer and Panoramio and how Google has “handled” it. Very poorly done.

  5. I had fun uploading photos from Panaramio to Google Earth. A few days ago I discovered that ALL the pics I had uploaded have disappeared. Every one. It happened even though Google assured us it would not. I also took the precaution of backing up those phots just like google told us to do and now those have disappeared too.
    I’m an old retired man who is semi disabled. Fiddling around on Google Earth was something I enjoyed doing but not any longer.

  6. I worry that Google Earth will be the next Google Reader – a popular service that didn’t make them money, so it went away.

  7. Nick Hertzman says:

    Hi Frank,

    Glad to see you’re still posting occasional updates, even if the news is bleak. I used GEarthBlog to write an in-depth history of Google Earth recently, and after digging into the product’s lifecycle and some old interviews I found with the Google Earth team, I have to agree that there isn’t much of a future for serious Google Earth users.

    I tried to figure out why Google dropped the ball on such a popular product, and my working theory is that they were never actually interested in creating or supporting a GIS platform. I think Google’s Geo Division as a whole is focused on figuring out how to index the world’s non-digital information, and the Keyhole acquisition was primarily for the tech behind rendering satellite imagery to serve that larger purpose. Google Earth Pro was just a handy spin-off that they were willing to explore for potential revenue. Once it was clear it that it wasn’t going to be Google-level profitable, they abandoned it to focus on their larger goal of non-digital data-collection.

    I’d be curious to get your thoughts on theory, you can check it out in detail here: https://www.unearthlabs.com/articles/breakroom/what-is-google-earth

    -Nick

  8. I always get Google Earth has stopped error. In past it worked fine but now constant error on my main rig… Any tips on that? I tried everything… Even Chrome portable have the same issue.

  9. I refuse any version of Chome. However for a full browser suite go to http://www.seamonkey-project.org/ for a download and it is free!

    I had no issues with GE and SeaMonkey!

    • Does Google Earth for Chrome works on SeaMonkey?

      • Be careful before you switch, there is more to be lost than gained friending upon what you value Ave tinfoil hat, yada..yada…

        If you use a lot of Google products and new Web services, you will get the most out of them from Chrome because the browser and Google products are developed faster than the Web standards which can take years to get published.

        I would not be surprised if Google Earth does not properly work outside of Chrome and Firefox.

        • SM and GE works well. I have no issues. My OPS is linux Mint and anything android, so far, I can use for Android is a stripped down version of linux.

          However, the standalone version is superb and is not browser dependent!



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.