Second guessing what is next for Google Maps.

The excitement is building around what will be in the "next dimension" of Google Maps to be revealed on June 6. Google kept their cards close to their chest and nobody knows what is going to be in it.

However, there are hints floating around that can help to piece together an educated guess. Having worked with Google Earth exclusively for years I have a vested interest in knowing what is going on but even Planetinaction.com is on the outside as far as new developments are concerned.

Google Earth has been a fantastic platform capable to do much more than what was envisaged for it. But the way technology has been going, plugin's and fat desktop applications are no longer the way to go.

Nowadays it is all about the cloud. A world where the browser is the new operating system where code and content streams into your computer via the internet.

Google Earth has been neglected for quite a while now. Small updates are made but I have not seen anywhere near the excitement and drive as can be observed in Google Maps. Both on the browser and mobile platform.

With the introduction of WebGL to Google maps and 3D building outlines it became clear where this is heading. I would not be surprised to see Google Earth and Google Maps become one. This is an exciting development because we can finally wave the plugin goodbye.

I wrote in the past already about Nokia 3D maps ( http://maps.nokia.com/webgl/ )  and the way their automated 3D landscape generation is superior to crowd sourced 3D warehouse from Google. You really need to give this link a try and enable the stereo vision (Red and blue glasses required). Be prepared to be blown away by the exquisite detail.

Although there are some exceptional Google Earth building modellers out there, they are forced to make do with inferior elevation data. Add to this the inconsistent model quality between different modellers and mismatching colors and poor texture tiles and Google Earth quickly looks like a unconvincing 3D game map rather then an accurate representation of the real world. The fact that the Google Complex itself is more accurately represented in Nokia maps as it is in Google Earth is a painful reminder of this fact.

Google now sold Sketchup which is an indication that they no longer believe crowd sourcing is the way to go. From here it is a matter of adding up all the signals and it should be clear that on June 6 we will see a Google Maps application that will show the first steps of that "third dimension" which no doubt means there will be elevation data in their WebGl enabled maps.

The big question is, where will this elevation data come from? Will it be the  crude 30 meter interval elevation data obtained by the SRTM project? Or are we going to see new high quality elevation data obtained from image analysis from aerial photography or even lidar?

Although the C3 technology applied in Nokia maps (And soon in Apple maps) looks great. There is room for improvement and you can count on Google for pushing boundaries in this area. Image analysis is a growing expertise field within Google as is the use of lidar as seen in their autonomous car project.

I just hope they will maintain a powerful API to their new 3D Google Maps so that planetinaction.com can keep writing exciting new applications.

We will just have to wait and see what is going to happen but I am guessing Google won't fail to amaze us.
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