Google Earth's 3D Goodness Comes to the Browser

At the Google I/O conference today, VP Engineering Vic Gundotra stressed the supremacy of the browser among all internet-enabled platforms.

So it should come as no surprise that the Google Earth team has announced on the same day that it has ported the Google Earth desktop client’s 3D mapping technology into the browser.

Website developers are now able to embed 3D maps, which can be modified using Google’s JavaScript API to add KML data, draw 3D buildings, attach callbacks, and more. The entire embed is powered by a special Google Earth Browser Plugin that end users must install. Unfortunately, it’s only available for Internet Explorer and Firefox users on Windows.

Peter Birch from the Google Earth team stressed to me at Google I/O the convenience of porting KML-based applications from 2D maps to 3D ones within the browser. Existing Maps API developers need only to add a single line of JavaScript to their initialization code. Developers who’ve created KML extensions for the Google Earth desktop client can bring those into the browser as well.

Peculiarly, Google is not offering the equivalent of a default installation of Google Earth in the browser. If you want to search the globe from square one, you still need to visit the 2D Google Maps website. Therefore, this release is mainly a developer one – not really a new product launch. Hopefully we’ll see a “3D Globe” option in Google Maps soon.

Update: As commenters point out, Microsoft has been 3D mapping within the browser for over a year, also only on Windows and with certain browsers.