While iPhone developers were busy discussing when Google Street View will be made accessible to the iPhone API via Google Maps (check out these cool screen shots — there will also be bus and walking directions) Google surprised with a major release: Google Earth for iPhone and iPod Touch — a free download in the App store.
CNET was first out the gate with a good review, Frank at Google Earth blog gives his positive impressions, Google has a help page available on the web, as well as a complete user guide. And here is Google Earth product manager Peter Birch announcing it on YouTube:
[Update 12:02 UTC: Google's official anouncement]
Even as version 1.0.0, this is a very well implemented and mature app. Google Earth iPhone gets all the basics right, and at surprisingly high frame rates, but also manages to add some flourishes that are not even available on the full-strength standalone version:
- True multitouch navigation: This is how navigation is supposed to work, as demoed on those futuristic multitouch panels we regularly get to drool over: We’re already familiar with the one-fingered gestures: Move the finger to drag the Earth along with it, double click to zoom, just was with a mouse. But with two fingers, you can pinch, twist and drag on the screen to zoom, rotate and look around — even all at the same time! Double click to zoom out. Overall, the user interface is stunning for its simplicity and intuitiveness — the best yet I’ve experienced on the iPhone.
- Dynamic search: Unlike on the standalone version of Google Earth, the search function on the iPhone version is dynamic. Start typing “Berlin” for example and several choices start to appear in the dropdown menu — in my case, contacts with addresses in Berlin were listed. Just click on one and it flies you there. You can also search for coordinates (of the type as “60.123, 18.123″ or “60 12′ 34″, 18 12′ 34″) and zip codes for the US and UK.
On the downside, I found the autotilt functionality to be a bit gimmicky — it interferes with the cool multitouch metaphor this app has got going and only partially delivers: You can look around vertically, which leads you to think you can look around horizontally, but you can’t. Fortunately, you can turn off autotilt in the preferences.
On the wishlist: The ability to load KML files, the addition of the road layer, and directions. 3D buildings aren’t supported, but I don’t consider that to be an essential function of a pocket-sized Google Earth. I’d also love to be able to add and then save or email placemarks but that will be easier when support for KML comes. And thinking even a bit more wishfully: It’d be nice to sync placemarks and KML between the Google Earth on my desktop and the one on my iPhone, much as Apple syncs my contacts, calendar and mail.
And finally: In unlimited-plan, fully covered 3G areas like Sweden, we are now just a hop-and-a-skip away from having the iPhone be a workable GPS navigator for the car. Just click on Google Earth’s “find current location” button to zoom in on your whereabouts. It’s no great leap of the imagination to turn that into a recurring function and add directions…