Apple Maps is a good app for finding your way around and getting directions, but is it fun? If you want something more entertaining, Google Earth has had some impressive updates recently.
Google Earth is a bit like a maps app and there is clearly some overlap, but it is used in a different way. You might look for directions with Apple Maps or see what is around your current location, but with Google Earth you mainly explore the world.
Starting out with a view of the Earth from space, you can zoom in right down to street level. Instead of drawn maps, there is real aerial photography and it shows how it looks from high in the sky to just a hundred feet or so off the ground.
Add photos to Google Earth
A recently added feature in Google Earth is a photos option. Millions of people walk around every day with a phone in their pocket or hands. They are taking millions of photos and Google Earth takes the ones they share and using the location information within the photographs, it places them on Google earth.
Tap the menu button to open the sidebar and turn on the Photos switch. If the current view is from quite high up, you will see just a small number of photos in small circles overlaid on the map.
Zoom in the view and as you get closer to the ground, more and more photos appear on the map. From two or three high up, there can be a dozen when you zoom into a popular location.
Each photo circle represents not just a single photo, but a collection of them. Many people photograph the same thing and there are probably thousands of the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and so on.
Tap a photo circle and the first of many photos taken at that location are displayed. You can zoom in and out with pinch and spread in the usual way, and swiping left and right flicks from one photo to another.
Photos appear in both 2D and 3D views. Tap the 3D button to show 3D buildings and bridges, and the photo circles are still there, and change with the view.
I don’t know how many photos there are, but the photo circles I tapped often had 20 different photos. There must be thousands of photos available and it is a great way to explore important places, buildings and sights. The quality of the photos I saw was very good.
Take a trip with Google Earth
Voyager is another great feature of Google Earth and tapping the icon that looks like a ship’s wheel opens Voyager. It is a collection of guided interactive tours that are organised into sections consisting of Editor’s Picks, Travel, Nature, Culture, History and Education.
You can dive under the sea in Florida, see natural treasures by the BBC, discover the day the dinosaurs died, watch the sun rise in Indonesia, go hiking in Honolulu and many more.
These can be viewed in portrait mode with a horizontal split or you can hold the iPhone in landscape mode for a vertical split screen with Google Earth on the left and information or a video clip on the right.
The area can be explored in 2D and 3D in the usual Google Earth way, and you can watch the videos, which come from YouTube. At any point you can jump back to Google Earth and continue exploring the area on your own.
Google Earth isn’t a map app, it is more like the hitchhiker's guide to the Earth.
- Written by Roland Waddilove
- Published: 18 October 2017