Since the introduction of the Google Earth service in 2005 it has been the standart for online virtual 3D representation of the world geographically. The service has been hugely successful and millions of people have explored the world from the desk in their home. The service offers tremendous details via hi-resolution aerial imagery combined with layers of annotated point data. In addition the tool offers, via the KML language, the integration of individual and user generated information and data.
Several services have picked up on Googles success and offer now similar services. These are for example the Nasa World Wind, Microsoft Earth now Bing 3D maps, the UK focused yell.com 3D mapping service or the on Australia focused NearMap service. There were however also earlier virtual globes and mapping services, back then running offline. For example by Microsoft Encarta, 1997 or the 3D Word Atlas, 1998.
Google's service still is the most popular. It runs on all platforms, which some of the others dont do and it works more or less intuitive. However there is the characteristic Google playful comic design to it which is, especially for the maps rather annoying. From fonts to placemarks the users always have to accept the content to be slightly ridiculous looking. Some of the other services clearly offer competitive features that are a lot better than the Google service can do. Yell has the amazing 3D modeling of the UK with great zooming, angle and rotation functions or NearMap offers the extremely great time slider function. Both functions Google products can do, but nowhere nearly as nice.
Image taken from OVI Maps 3D / San Francisco down town in 3D. In the foreground the Transamerica Pyramid.
Now, Nokia is entering the market of digital globes and 3D mapping by taking the Nokia OVI Maps service 3D with OVI Maps 3D. And it is a great start, the service looks very pretty and the imagery is amazing.
On the Nokia blog it is described as: "Starting with a bird’s-eye view, you can scale up and down and move around objects such as buildings and trees from the desktop, experiencing a virtual but super realistic perspective of new places.
The feature includes 20 cities today, but will expand over time. Cities in the Nordic region includes Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen. When visiting Copenhagen or Oslo in Ovi Maps you can also use the new road-level imagery with a detailed 360-degree panoramic view of streets that completes the experience."
Image taken from OVI Maps 3D / San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid, showing street view bubbles in blue.
To use the 3D feature of te map the installation of a browser plug-in is required. With this the maps come to live and a combination of map, virtual earth and street view is accessible. The integration of the different elements currently work neatly in one direction. From the map view to the 3D view to the Street View. However going the other way can be frustrating, with the position and perspective being changed in the transition.
Nevertheless the detail and information is very good and of high quality. The best benefit is probably a different design approach using better symbols. For example the street view pops up in the 3D view as blue circles that change size as the user hovers over it with the mouse curser. Looks really neat. However, the integration of temporal aspects in both content and imagery is missing from the OVI maps and 3D. The 3D part is currently in beta and there might be quite some changes with the release of the final version.
Image taken from OVI Maps 3D / San Francisco street view at the foot of the Transamerica Pyramid, looking up.
The digital globe covers the terrain modelling across the entire world. However, currently the 3D rendering of buildings is only available for a selection of cities. This list of 20 cities will be extended continously, but so far they have not provided a schedule for this. Also the integration with the OVI API is not yet announced. Here again OVI offers great features the Google API does not. For example a geoShape that draws a circle with a given radius around a point.
Map by urbanTick for NCL / The current location of NCL twitter mappings of urban areas worldwide on the OVI map.