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A couple days ago, Google announced the release of their new App for the iPhone: Google Earth (iTunes Link).  No, we didn’t already have this on the iPhone….that’s the Maps App powered by Google Earth.

OK, so this new App may seem a bit pointless, but stay with me, it’s definitely something to watch.  Here’s why.

First of all the interface for Google Earth is exactly what you’d probably expect.  The pinch motion controls the zoom, twisting the pinch rotates the aspect, and double tapping zooms out.  It works beautifully on the iPhone’s screen and surprisingly, the layers load quickly on the EDGE network.

So what’s new and different for THIS iteration of Google Earth?  Well, one of the first new functions is integration with the “my location” technology (the non-GPS version that uses the cell network was built by Google, go figure).  Clicking the icon familiar to Maps users homes in on your location and zooms to a reasonable altitude.

Also, Google Earth has an added feature that uses the accelerometer.  Normally tilting one’s perspective in the desktop client is a real pain in the neck.  At least, it is for someone like me who has trouble walking and aiming at the same time in first-person shooters.  On the iPhone, all you have to do is tilt your phone upward (from a flat plane) and your view of the Earth tilts with it.  The functionality is fairly limited because very little of the Google Earth images take altitude into account (or the terrain is simply flat), so you will usually see a 2D image rendered in 3D.  Their example of viewing the Matterhorn in Zermat is pretty impressive though (just type in “matterhorn” into the search box).

Speaking of the search box, you can search for places or establishments the way you normally would with any Google service.  You can even choose to search near your current location.  Of course the Maps App, again, is the better option for this most of the time, but if you are moving a great distance, the “flying” animation is really worth the extra effort.  You might think of Google Earth as your world atlas and Maps as the local city map that sits in your car.

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Filters are a huge part of the desktop client and Google has tried to integrate that functionality to a small extent.  There are only two filters right now, Wikipedia and Panoramio (Google’s geo-tagging service), but I hope that this will increase over time.  In order to adjust the filters (which places relevant icons on the map) you can go into the options screen, represented by the iPhone’s “info” icon.  From there you can adjust the map, get instructions for viewing, clear your cache or history, and change the map configuration a bit.  The controls are very simple right now, but I have high hopes that they will grow as the App is developed more and more.

Clicking on the filter icons (which can be difficult if one doesn’t zoom in a ways) opens up a window over the top of the globe window.  It doesn’t leave the App, which is nice, and it provides a condensed and easily viewable version of the page’s content.  You may want to turn off all but one filter at any given time to avoid clutter in popular places.  To leave your icon’s page, there is a simple back arrow that returns you to the map.  No jumping into Safari at unexpected times!

Overall, I like this App a lot.  Google Earth has a large fanbase and this will only bolster it.  I, like many others, have always felt that Google Earth is a bit pointless when you have the full power of Google Maps available, but those feelings aside, this is a great App.  There is definitely some room for expansion and improvement, but for a first entry, this App is better than some others will ever be!

What do you use Google Earth for normally?  Will your needs float over to this cut-down version or will you have to wait for your favorite feature to be added?

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