Today's Google Earth announcement brought a couple of nice new features to the Google Maps suite. In addition to moving offline maps out of Labs, the company also pre-empted rumors of Apple-branded 3D map software with a demo of some stellar 3D maps that Google has been creating with high-tech camera planes. Yes, Google now has camera planes.

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The company is using some sophisticated mapping software and planes outfitted with a bevy of camera sensors to create photo-realistic 3D maps of the entire terrain of a metropolitan area. This is in stark contrast to the previous method of simply using 3D building models. The results look phenomenal:


The level of detail is astounding. The cameras Google is using to create these images are very high resolution.  Plus, the maps no longer discriminate which landmarks get the 3D treatment. Houses, small business, trees, and attractions are all part of the 3D models. Which, by the way, are a treat to see behind the scenes:

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The raw data is actually kind of beautiful and seeing it all come together gives you that feeling that you're in the future all over again. The first two shots above show how the planes track data. A camera points directly downward, while four other camera capture data at 45 degree angles pointing in the four cardinal directions. The second image shows the flight paths of the planes that ensures overlap, giving Google plenty of data. The remaining three images shows what happens when Google puts the 3D model data and the textures together. It's kind of fantastic.

Amusingly, this product was demoed on an iPad (which crashed a few times during the demonstration), so even if Google is completely removed from iOS, the company is making it clear it intends to maintain a solid presence on the platform. Google's not going down without a fight. Several questions directed at Google today concerned Google Maps on iOS and for the most part Google dodged them, which is just further evidence that Apple intends to drop them.

What is clear, however, is that Android will continue to be the favored son and that whatever Apple is planning has, indeed, spurred Google on to work even harder. The 3D maps, as well as offline mapping features will be appearing on Android soon, and iOS "when possible." All in all, it's an exciting day to be a Google Maps and Google Earth user.

Eric Ravenscraft
Eric is a snarky technophile with a taste for the unusual. When he's not obsessing about Android, you can usually find him obsessing about movies, psychology, or the perfect energy drink. Eric weaves his own special blend of snark, satire, and comedy into all his articles.

  • Kellic

    Suck on it hard Apple.

    • John O’Connor

      An even funnier stab at Apple would be branding google's flagship devices "Orange" instead of nexus

    • John O’Connor

      An even funnier stab at Apple would be branding google's flagship devices "Orange" instead of nexus

    • ddpacino

      You've upgraded to Disqus!! I'm just seeing this! =D
      But yea, suck it Apple. We see you're 3D with a bazilion other features you can't match. Indoor Maps?!

    • ddpacino

      You've upgraded to Disqus!! I'm just seeing this! =D
      But yea, suck it Apple. We see you're 3D with a bazilion other features you can't match. Indoor Maps?!

  • Steve Douglas

    Link? Or am I missing it?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

      It's only announced, not yet available.

  • Faruk Ahmet

    I remember Microsoft doing this years ago with Bing maps, using the same technology--at least the same principle. They didn't push it aggressively though. I think they only managed to capture a few obvious city centers like Manhattan. Google should, and probably will do more. 

    This, I guess, is also why Google got rid of SketchUp and sold it to Trimble a while ago. I am a long-time SketchUp user and love it to death, but its acquisition (from '@Last Software') always seemed like a weird, half-assed answer to Google's 3D building data needs.

    • silaslenz

      C3, the company that apple bought, has also been doing this for some time. We even had 3d maps available for a bunch of cities here in Sweden. Sadly they have dissappeared recently, but there are videos that show it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=gSmunh6NIQI#t=13s
      Still, Google version seems better :)

      • http://www.toysdiva.com Toys Samurai

        All I can say is that the 3D maps are gimmick because in practice, it's really not that easy to navigate. At the end of it, the most important thing about a map is its accuracy and it's just hard work and takes years to perfect. I don't think Apple can compete with Google at this moment.

        • AppleFUD

          They aren't the best for navigating however, there are many other uses where they will be very handy. Searching for a new home lately and I would love to have this — satellite only gets you so far.

          Also, during navigation to go into 3D to see the landmarks can be very handy as well.

        • freediverx

          3D maps aren't intended as a primary navigation interface. Like Street View, they're great alternative to 2D maps for exploring a city.

        • freediverx

          "I don't think Apple can compete with..."

          Seems I've heard this line a few times before.

  • Kathryn Fortunato

    Sure, Apple, you guys have fun with shunning all the services that all but the most rabid of your fanbase wants to use. Let me know how that works out for you.

  • http://twitter.com/EmalLikeBau5 Emal Jaan

    Apple! Suck it like a cock! 

  • http://profiles.google.com/sampo.niskanen Sampo Niskanen

    Nokia Maps already has this available for quite a few cities around the world:  http://maps.nokia.com/3D/

    Currently it requires a custom browser plugin to be installed (I guess WebGL doesn't yet cut it), but it has really phenomenal scenery in full 3D.

    • http://www.facebook.com/vivecuervo7 Isaac Dedini

       Lol this is nice, I'm not trying to have a go at you or anything, but usually when it isn't Google/Android it's somebody popping up with "Apple this and Apple that". Nice to see a Nokia thrown in, it's refreshing.

      • freediverx

        Can't wait to see what RIM has up their sleeve to blow away Apple and Google on 3D mapping.

  • Guest

    How exactly does "high res 3D images of buildings" help me navigate down a road?
    It would probably be just as good as "low res drawings of buildings".
    And save tons of data on my limited plan.
    And update maps FAR quicker.

    • Not enough minerals

      wait, you use google EARTH to navigate?
      you're doing something wrong there, pal.

    • Dat Phone

       If you're loading up google earth on your phone in order to find directions, you're doing something wrong =)

      3D buildings will be good for a number of people, especially professionals.  Architects will be able to use it to determine the look and shadows of an area, marketers will be able to determine how effective a billboard could be without driving down to the area.  As an individual, you may find this useful when searching for a new house.  A quick google earth visit could let you see the proximity between your house in question and power lines, or a large homeless shelter. 

  • Spydie

    can't wait for flight sims to get maps this detailed.

  • btod

    This just proves how we as android fans need apple. Without apple's threat, google would not have rushed to get this new development out the door. I'm not a fan of apple but if it weren't there, there would not be as strong push for google to innovate and grow

    • LTame

      That's how competition works, man. If Android weren't here, there would be no rumors of the next iPhone screen being bigger. If Android weren't there, Apple wouldn't have added a Notification Bar on iOS ;)

      Competition is awesome for us, consumers.

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      I agree with your premise, but the example is technically wrong. Google has been working on this MUCH longer than there have been rumors of Apple doing a 3d maps app. The most that can be said here is that Google will probably work harder to get this feature out faster because Apple is supposedly doing it.

    • freediverx

      "This just proves how we as android fans need apple. Without apple's threat, google would not have rushed to get this new development out the door"

      Actually, without Apple to copy from, Android would still look like this:


      • ari_free

        hmm so where did Samsung get the Note idea from?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/424VTGKW3D2SXWCXF3RZ6ZI26Q Reality Check

    That is AMAZING!:P I wonder if one day Google Earth will be LIVE!?!? You could zoom in anywhere in the world and see what is going on live on the streets? One day maybe :D

  • http://profiles.google.com/patrickscott52 Patrick Scott

    What is the difference between this and MapsGL (which I've been using to get 3D maps on Google Maps for the last few days now)? 

    • freediverx

      In theory, much higher quality 3D models that don't look cartoonish.

  • http://twitter.com/benbaranovsky Ben Baranovsky

    The article did not make this clear: When will this be released for Mac/PC and Android?  Will it be available in Maps or only Earth?

    • freediverx

      See "vaporware".

  • carbonated_turtle

    Awwww, too bad Steve Jobs isn't alive to sue Google for supposedly stealing another one of his ideas.

  • Dan

    Google has planes?  Aw crap.

  • freediverx

    "Rubs It In Apple's Face Just A Bit"

    Seems to me that rubbing anything in Apple's face is a little ineffective when your product demo embarrassingly crashes every time you run it. This presentation made Microsoft's demos look good in comparison.

  • ari_free

    Next time, screw the iPad and just focus on Android, OK?