Google has announced two new features for Google Maps that mimic features in Google Earth, begging the question: is Google Earth on borrowed time?
The first new feature is the additional of terrain in Google Maps. The terrain fly over feature has long been available in Google Earth, but now you can fly over a map and see the contours of the land, all without the need to download Google Earth.
The second new feature mimics the community contribution feature of Google Earth. “Our Maps” brings wiki-style collaboration to Google Maps, with users able to annotate places and share those notes with friends or the greater public.
Google acquired Keyhole in October 2004 and it was immediately obvious as to why: Google wanted the satellite imagery to support their move into serious mapping. Keyhole provided Google Earth, a downloadable program that gave a then unprecedented view of the earth through the use of satellite imagery, but Google isn’t a software company, Picasa and a few small efforts aside. Google has integrated many of the functions from Keyhole into Google Maps whilst continuing to sustain Google Earth, but for how much longer? As Google Maps takes on more and more of the functionality of Google Earth the appeal of Earth must diminish. It also makes sense that Google would rather grow and sustain a web product over a software download. Google Earth will still be with us for some time to come, but how long is now up to Google, and I’m betting that Google is already looking at ending support sometime in the next year or two as Google Maps becomes everything Google Earth now is, but online and without the download.