Google Maps enhancements could rain on Apple's parade

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google's promising a range of new features for Google Maps and Google Earth, hoping to see off a potential threat from Apple.

It's adding 3D views of entire metropolitan areas to Google Earth thanks to a fleet of tiny drones equipped with cameras - one for the privacy campaigners there. It's also recruited skiers and walkers to its fleet of StreetView cars and trikes to allow it to include wilderness areas in its imagery.

"Since 2006, we’ve had textured 3D buildings in Google Earth, and today we are excited to announce that we will begin adding 3D models to entire metropolitan areas to Google Earth on mobile devices," says Brian McClendon, VP of engineering, Google Maps.

"This is possible thanks to a combination of our new imagery rendering techniques and computer vision that let us automatically create 3D cityscapes, complete with buildings, terrain and even landscaping, from 45-degree aerial imagery. By the end of the year we aim to have 3D coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people."

The company's also promising offline Google Maps for Android in the next few weeks, allowing users to take maps offline from more than 100 countries.

"This means that the next time you are on the subway, or don’t have a data connection, you can still use our maps," says McClendon.

It's notable, though, that all these changes are promises - none's appearing today. It's impossible not to draw the conclusion that the company's concerned about Apple.

Apple's widely rumored to be about to announce its own mapping application at its developer conference next week - abandoning Google Maps. If Google Maps is seen as the superior application, though, it'll make it harder for Apple to do that.