So what’s new?
- Seamless Street View: Wherever LIDAR has been used, Street View has now turned into a seamlessly navigable 3D mirror world. No longer do you “hop” from panorama to panorama in discreet steps — instead, you can now glide through a world where the Street View imagery has been painted onto a LIDAR model of the surroundings; as you navigate around, whichever panorama is closest gets used automatically as the backdrop. It’s a really cool effect and it will likely grab all the headlines. To get started, drag the yellow pegman to a place on Earth that has LIDAR-enhanced Street View.
- 3D virtual trees: A cosmetic addition that doesn’t do much for me, but if you’re going to build a faithful mirror world, you’re going to need virtual trees, right? There’s plenty of different species to reflect the local flora, but that doesn’t stop it from obscuring the satellite imagery, which is what I came for. This feature will be turned off in my copy of GE6.
- Accessible historical imagery: Easily the single greatest improvement to Google Earth since its launch in 2005 has been the addition of historical imagery, added in February 2009 with the release of GE5. Google Earth 6 doesn’t have anything new of this caliber but it does make the historical imagery more accessible to casual users by placing pointers to the data front-and-center on the screen. Until now, the forensic neogeographer had to use the historical imagery tool to see what if any older imagery was available; in GE6, the year of the oldest imagery for any given view is visible below the scale legend; click the year to be taken directly to that imagery.
The rest of Google Earth is pretty much the same, a sign that this application is maturing. I’m still hoping for a future release where the KML files in Google Earth’s My Places sidebar sync through the cloud with Google Maps’ My Maps and mobile Google Earth for iOS and Android. This has the added benefit of making hosted publishing possible — you could just choose to “share” a particular KML file with the world and get a URL in return, just as you do with My Maps now.
In the meantime, however, you won’t find me complaining about the greatest piece of free software this side of NCSA Mosaic.