Andrew Hudson-Smith over on Digitally Distributed Environments is our eyes and ears for an ESRI presentation given by David Maguire in London on Friday.
Maguire ran through the beta of ArcGIS Explorer: Andrew comes away very impressed. Those who see and use the closed beta of ArcGIS Explorer are reporting it to be in a different league to Google Earth, with analytical tools galore and features such as facade mapping.
Facade mapping will have to come to Google Earth, then, because I suspect Andrew will focus his 3D authoring efforts on whichever platform makes them look best.
But more broadly, what I think we’re seeing is an impending differentiation of roles for the different applications: Google Earth is bringing geospatial browsing to the masses, including people who until now might not have known their latitude from their longitude. ESRI ArcGIS Explorer, on the other hand, looks like it will democratize GIS among professionals who until now would have outsourced the GIS aspects of their projects.
Google Earth, then, will likely continue to focus on high-resolution content and social features, with time browsers and rich base layers so that it is the ideal presentation tool for 3D and spatial data authored elsewhere. ESRI ArcGIS Explorer will become Arc Desktop Light, a deft blocking move that raises the bar on entry by others into the GIS analytics market by making a subset of features — already developed and paid for — free.
The relationship between the two tools is likely to be virtuous, in that each enlarges demand for the other. If we’ve finally reached a point where improvements in computing power, internet access speeds and software authoring prowess are creating a tipping point for GIS as a mass market phenomenon, then the rising tide/lifting ships cliché will for once be apt.