Google Earth isn’t a new thing from Google. As a matter of fact, it has been around in some form or fashion since 2001. It has evolved and become more and more useful in the 16 years it has been around, and the latest update will only make it more widely-used.
We’ve known that a pretty substantial update to Google Earth was on the horizon, but Google wasn’t exactly forthcoming as to what this update would address.
I personally was hoping for the fly-by effect on Daydream that you can currently get on the Oculus Rift, giving users the ability to fly through cities and famous locations. I’ve not experienced it, but it looks really, really cool!
In my mind, Google Earth was one of those services that would likely stay tied to a dedicated app since the graphic requirements are likely pretty high.
I never saw what Google was actually up to.
The Big Change
As of the launch of the new Google Earth, users can simply visit google.com/earth and begin exploring right in their browser.
Yes, Google Earth runs in a browser tab, now.
Once you visit the site, you simply click the ‘launch Google Earth’ button and you off and running.
And this isn’t a pared down, half-baked version, either. All the new features, all the 3D rendering, all the pinching, zooming, scrolling experience is here.
Whether you are on a Chromebook, Windows PC, or Mac, this just works! No installs, no downloads, just pure web goodness.
The win this is for app in a web environment is the stuff of an additional article, but in a nutshell, this is crazy-impressive stuff to be running without an install or a download. We are looking squarely at the future of web-based applications.
The EDU Play
Quite clearly, this is a move by Google to get more of its education-based applications into classrooms on Chromebooks.
Slowly but surely, we are going to keep seeing things tailored for Chromebooks if they can be leveraged in the classroom.
With Chromebooks dominating the education sector, this all makes a lot of sense. Anything Google makes that can be used easily in that setting makes sense for them to build with Chromebooks and the web in mind.
Imagine the things kids will now get to see and experience from their desk at school. Imagine their ability to better grasp the size and beauty of the world around them. With so many students armed with Chromebooks, it only makes sense that Google would bring things like Google Earth to the web application arena.
The more mind-boggling part is wondering how they did it.
This latest update and overhaul also brings a few new features across both the web app and the iOS and Android counterparts.
Voyager – This feature give users the opportunity to visit areas with a guided tour from experts on the region. Want to visit Japan? Take a quick, guided tour around the best spots to see in Tokyo with info cards that teleport you between locations as you click through. Manipulate the Google Earth renders or hit the Street View button to jump down to ground level. It is really, really cool.
Post Cards – Find something particularly beautiful or interesting? You can now send a ‘postcard’ with a simple share as if you were, you know, really there. On the app versions, this is basically a screen grab. For desktop, it is simply a link that takes another user directly to the spot and view setup on the map you were looking at.
Considering all the different ways you could set up a view with Google Earth, the fact that this share takes them right to the exact view you had lined up is pretty impressive.
I’m Feeling Lucky – What would any good Google product be without the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button? Sure its old and nostalgic, but in this setting, the random button can help you discover an amazing thing you didn’t even know existed. Its fun.
Google has definitely made an application with a much, much broader user base with this latest move. The ease of sharing via link (similar to what made sharing photos so smooth with Google Photos) will likely be a huge selling point for people to actually use Google Earth. Add that to the simplicity of launching the app in your browser and you have a real winner with this latest overhaul.