Google Beats Apple To The Punch With 3D Maps
June 7, 2012

Google Beats Apple To The Punch With 3D Maps

Michael Harper for

Rumors about Apple´s very own mapping service have been strong for quite some time now, and while most analysts and professional watchers expect them to make an announcement to this end next week at WWDC, Google may have already beat them to the punch.

After all, nothing says, “Apple is leaving Google to start their own mapping service for their millions and millions of handheld devices” like a special Google Maps press event held just a few days before Apple´s time in the spotlight.

Of course, a simple revision to their maps app wouldn´t be enough to trump Apple´s expected 3D options, so Google stepped up their game, announcing an offline mode for their Android maps app and their very own 3D models of entire cities in Google Earth.

The search giant also took the time to show off one of the ways in which they gather so much data from the world around them: The Google backpack known as the Street View Trekker, meant to capture data everywhere Google´s bicycles, boats, cars, planes and trikes aren´t.

Though not nearly as sexy as Apple´s rumored upcoming 3D mode, offline maps will be of utmost usability. The new version of Google Maps, which will support this offline mode, will only be available for Android phones, a nice little snub of the nose to Apple fans.

Just as it sounds, this feature will allow Android users to save maps directly to their device, especially handy when traveling abroad with expensive data plans or preparing for a wilderness hike.

For those users who want to travel abroad but also need to keep their budgets in mind, the 3D maps in Google Earth should offer some brief satisfaction. Using a 3D modeling technology, the Google Earth team has started to recreate most of the world´s largest cities. The new version of Google Maps will be available for all devices, Android, iOS and desktops alike.

“The goal is to model the world in 3-D,” said Peter Birch, Google Earth´s product manager, according to Wired. “What we´re doing is we´re using automated technology to extract 3-D from aerial images.”

These Google planes are flying over Earth´s largest metropolitan areas, capturing as much data as they can through specially designed camera systems at 45-degree angles, as well as straight down.

“Every single building here is modeled and that´s important because we´re trying to create magic here,” Birch said. “We´re trying to create that illusion that you´re flying over the city.”

The new version of Google Earth won´t be available until later this year, though it´s likely Google merely wanted to have something, anything 3D to show in the days leading up to Apple´s announcement, which is expected to integrate 3D, real-time traffic and turn-by-turn directions.

Finally, Google gave a quick peak into the kimono as they showed us the Google Street View Trekker, a backpack device used to capture “street views” of passages and trails not commonly referred to as “streets.” Essentially a miniature version of everything else they use to take pictures of their surroundings, the Street View Trekker contains a 15-lens camera used to shoot 46 megapixel images. Not surprisingly, the Trekker is controlled by an Android smartphone. Luckily, the Trekker isn´t yet a consumer technology to be used by just anybody. As it stands, Google says only a “handful” of these packs exist and are also used to take pictures of castles, the Grand Canyon and other trails. Street View engineer director Luc Vincent described the Trekker this way: “It´s really not so bad. You´ve got to be a bit careful obviously, but, hey, it works.”

Apple is expected to release their new mapping offerings on Monday during their WWDC keynote.