1) 3D Cities - Google has launched a full 3D mapping update for Google Earth, which will be available first on mobile applications. The new launch drives at Google’s core principles: comprehensiveness, accuracy and useability, and will fill in many of the gaps in the current coverage. The 3D updates will reach beyond US to the UK and EMEA regions, and by the end of 2012 will cover "metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people".
2) Offline Maps - Users will now be able to download maps to use offline on Android in more than 100 countries in the coming weeks. While not yet available on the iPhone, VP of Engineering Brian McClendon says they aim to offer this on “all devices” soon.
3) Google Earth on Foot - Google is now sending backpack-toting Googlers out to photograph places that aren't accessible to Street View cars, trikes and snowmobiles.
4) 12 New Countries - Google is expanding its Map Maker tool to 12 new countries to enable users to help improve the accuracy of its maps.
The biggest splash by far is the introduction of 3D Maps – Google detailed an impressive systematic process: specially contracted airplanes will collect data on cities all over the world. Flying in tight grids at 45 degree angles, the planes will produce images which, combined with Google’s algorithms, will produce maps a step function in accuracy and scale beyond what has previously been available.
Taking a step back , 3D is exciting, and if given a choice more accuracy is typically better, but why does this really matter?
Augmented Reality: A New Way of Seeing
The map is just a starting point, a foundation for other layers of user information. “Behind the scenes, this is very valuable for future applications like augmented reality," said Ed Parsons, geospatial technologist at Google, in a detailed interview with The Guardian. "It gives you the ability to attach information to objects in three dimensions." The field of data visualization has blossomed in recent years from the power of just such combinations to deliver deeper insight and help drive complex, multi-factor decisions.
Google’s improved accuracy and more facile interface has the potential to democratize capabilities like those of GIS (Geographic Information Systems). While clunky, expensive and hard to use, GIS has been a pioneer in customizing maps and data visualization for use in real life by enabling users to add and subtract ‘layers’ of information – such as population density, age, river flood patterns, temperature, roads etc.
With examples of maps bringing data to life on themes as diverse as crime, telecom, disaster relief, and dating and obvious applications from urban and infrastructure planning to the consumer experience, this technology becomes more and more relevant.
Google pushes the idea further – raising futuristic scenarios about maps, custom made for the individual, tailored in real-time for the decision or perspective in that moment. Google's Project Glass prototypes, launched earlier this year – position the idea of a map as a product and a service. "We're perhaps getting to the point where every map is unique for every individual for their particular task," said Parsons. "A map I would see might be different to a map you'd see."
Feels like the type of bright new thing which, once in our hands, we won’t be able to live without. Google and Apple are racing to deliver, hoping that is indeed the case.