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Google Maps and Apple's Maps will provide similar functionality for mobile phones.
Recently, Google updated its globe-trotting Google Earth app to include 3D views of select major cities. Android users had already received the update a month prior, but now, certain iOS devices can fly around inside realistic cities, as well. Of course, Google isn't the only player in the mobile 3D map space; Apple is also touting a similar function with the new Maps app in the upcoming iOS 6. So, what are the differences?
Google Earth 3D mapping is only available on iPhone 4S, iPad 2, and the third-generation iPad. After applying the update -- or downloading the app fresh -- zeroing in on certain cities will provide a rather impressive 3D view of buildings, terrain, and other structures. Seeing downtown Los Angeles from this perspective, and spinning the view with a quick swipe of your finger, is really amazing. Currently, Google offers 3D mapping for 12 U.S. cities, as well as Rome, Italy.
Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up the new "tour" function in Google Earth. A selection of important places appear in a horizontally sliding menu, and tapping a location flies you in for a guided view. As you spin around a 3D depiction of the Roman Coliseum, for example, Google Earth will display historical tidbits.
Almost a year ago, Apple acquired C3 Technologies, a Saab spin-off company that utilizes declassified military technology to create photo-realistic 3D maps. As details of the new Maps app emerged -- the old, Google-based Maps app is getting the boot in iOS 6 -- it became clear why Apple had decided to take C3 under its umbrella.
Flyover, just one of many new features in Maps, will also give iOS users a 3D view of select cities. As of this writing, Maps does offer more overseas cities in 3D than Google Earth. Looking at the iOS 6 beta, the textures in Apple's app seem just a teensy bit more clear, but both mapping systems occasionally muddy up dense areas of foliage. Additionally, texture loading can be a bit slow, particularly on a weaker connection. But when you're talking about two huge companies like Apple and Google, it's a fair bet the technology will get better with future updates.
Ultimately, the 3D mapping functions of Google Earth and iOS 6 Maps seems fairly comparable. Both apps offer new ways to explore the world from the comfort of your iOS device in an exciting new angle. But the big difference between the two apps is in how the maps are utilized for other functions within the same program. Frankly, Apple's Maps seems to have more functionality outside of 3D mapping -- navigation, Siri -- while Google Earth is more of an exploratory/educational tool.
Now, if we can just get 3D maps in those Google Smart Glasses. Oh, wait.