by Al Sacco

Google Earth for Apple iPhone: The Whole Wide World in Your Hand

Oct 28, 20083 mins
Enterprise Applications

Thanks to a new mobile Google Earth application, Apple iPhone and iPod touch users can now employ the search giant’s popular online mapping service to view global satellite and aerial imagery from wherever they have wireless connectivity.

The free Google Earth for iPhone application hit Apple’s iTunes App Store last weekend and it’s already the single most popular free app in the online shop. That’s for good reason; I downloaded the software to my iPhone last night and before I knew what happened I’d spent an hour tracing my route to the office and viewing landmarks in the cities I’ve visited recently—namely, the Golden Gate Bridge and other locales in and around San Francisco. Fun stuff, indeed.

view of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, via Google Earth on the Apple iPhone
Google Earth on the Apple iPhone

According to iTunes, the mobile version of Google Earth provides the exact same satellite images available through the full desktop version of the service, with “high-resolution imagery for over half of the world’s population and a third of the world’s land masses.”

The program utilizes the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer to let users tilt their iPhones or iPod touch devices to look at mountainous terrain head-on as opposed to from a bird’s eye view, and the app’s Location feature can single in on users’ physical locations in a matter of seconds—using GPS, where available.

The application also integrates with Wikipedia and Panoramio, giving users access to piles of geo-located articles and millions of photographs from around the globe. And it has a local search function that lets you search for nearby establishments and landmarks. (You can even type search queries on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard in landscape mode, i.e., while the device is tilted horizontally—a feature that’s unavailable in the default iPhone apps unless you install a third party program like TouchType.)

Google Earth on the Apple iPhone opening screen

However, Google Earth for iPhone is lacking in some regards when compared to the desktop version. For example, the full version of Google Earth lets users add various levels of information for any given location, so you could, say, see various street names in a city or neighborhood. Google Earth for iPhone doesn’t provide such information, nor can you add it—at least as far as I can tell. This is the very first iteration of the software, though, and it seems likely that Google will modify and enhance the app in the future, so it may only be a matter of time until Google Earth for iPhone gets some of the full desktop version’s advanced functionality.

If you’re an iPhone or iPod touch user, I’d strongly recommend checking out the new Google Earth app. But make sure you’ve got some free time on your hands, as the program can be a time suck.

(Note: Apple’s iPhone 2.0 software update is required.)