App vs App: Google Earth vs Earthscape
[This is a TiPb AT WORK App vs. App Interlude! Last week, we ran our Remote Desktop/VNC Showdown, with Jaadu edging out Mocha for the victory. But which forum voter and blog commenter won copies of the winning App? Congratulations MSZATNY and GOS
This week, while the TiPb iPhone Forums vote on THE TWIST Casey steps in to look at Earthscape and it's major-league new rival, Google Earth! They're both FREE, but if you comment below (and make sure you leave a valid email address in the comment form -- it won't be made public, but it will be used to contact you), you'll still have a chance to win an iTunes gift certificate from TiPb! Check out the full contest details, then grab your iPhone and get ready to get things done -- the TiPb AT WORK Interlude: Earth vs Earth is on!]
Google has a certain love affair with the iPhone. Yeah, we know Android is Google’s baby but that doesn’t stop them from putting out top-notch applications for the iPhone. The Youtube App and Google Maps are both best in class and Gmail and Google Reader on Safari are setting the bar for web-based applications. So though Android is all Google, they're still not ready to leave the iPhone.
Case in point, the release of Google Earth on the iPhone. Anyone a bit surprised that they released one of their more unique products on the iPhone before it got even as much as a sniff for Android? Luckily, as iPhone users we don’t have to worry about the politics of the situation and we get to enjoy the app for what it is.
But Google Earth isn’t the only player in town. Earthscape has been around, is free (used to be $9.99), and works admirably. So in this arena of mobile Earth based apps, is Google Earth the young challenger or the new champion?
Read on to find out in this special edition of App vs App!
Design & Input
Google Earth is a well designed app, which isn't surprising considering its coming from the guys from Mountain View. The control layout is basic but purposeful, there is a My Location button, an Info button, a Search button, and a Compass feature that can redirect you to due north. There's enough to be usable and nothing to distract you.
The core design of Google Earth lays in the control and all around power of the iPhone. There are a lot of multi touch gestures that behave according to whichever gesture you use. This leads to a greatly intuitive UI and a fairly low learning curve. Using multi touch allows the map to take center stage in the app with no dock or tabs blocking the focus.
Frankly, if you know how to navigate the iPhone, you’ll do well with Google Earth. Zoom in, Zoom out, Rotate, and Pan are all controlled by gestures that are similar to those system wide on the iPhone. There is also a two finger drag that can tilt the screen up and down. The accelerometer is also used by portraying the bird’s eye view of the map when faced flat and a 3D view when tilted up. A very neat feature.
Earthscape is also a full featured ‘Earth’ maps program. Though instead of fully using the iPhone’s multi-touch and accelerometer to its advantage, it chooses to offer numerous options on a dock. You get options for My Location, 3D mode, Camera, Search, Info, and an Earthscape button. I found this method to be less intuitive considering I wasn’t exactly sure what each button did which in turn slowed down usability.
To be sure, Earthscape still supports multi-touch. Zooming in and out is familiar and panning is all but second nature (there is no rotate feature). Also, the accelerometer is put to minimal use, only flipping the map to landscape—the dock remains static—and the map doesn't turn into 3D mode upon tilting.
Verdict: I prefer the Google Earth method of relying on the iPhone’s multi-touch and accelerometer. Earthscape's choice of a dock just isn't as easy to use.
So once you enter the Google Earth, you are given a bird’s eye view of whatever location you choose. It’s kind of like Satellite View on steroids: offering a better overview of the ‘world’ and its terrain than anything Google Maps has to offer. However, it does away with the street names so you’ll have to instead focus on City Names, State borders, and Wikipedia Entries for your information.
I really enjoyed the Wikipedia Entries that showcase cool tidbits on local landmarks. You definitely learn a lot more about your area when you click on the Wikipedia ‘W’ and have the page open within the app.
The maps on Google Earth also seem to be recently updated. There are a couple new buildings that have sprouted up in recent years that are now viewable on Google Earth. The maps are also clear renderings of the area with seemingly accurate colors and geography.
As mentioned before, browsing Google Earth is simply a cinch. You don’t have to re-learn any icons or gestures because it uses everything that you're used to with your iPhone. You’ll definitely be surprised at how flawless everything works and how well it performs.
However, Google Earth does have a tendency to crash on my iPhone. I found this to be an unavoidable problem and something I just dealt with. To offer an iPhone app that’s nearly better than the desktop version? Bravo, I’ll take the crashes in stride…for now.
Earthscape works well and if Google Earth didn’t exist, it’d be a great app to show off to your friends. But it simply can’t keep pace with Google Earth on two big, big features. Controls and Maps. Controlling Earthscape just doesn’t make as much as sense as it does on Google Earth. The cluttered dock takes a bit of time to get used to and the icons aren’t as easily recognizable. Though I may just be getting spoiled with how Goolge Earth does things, I’m surprised at the decision to use on-screen inputs rather than multi-touch and accelerometer based controls.
Also, the maps are a little bit older than those on Google Earth. The buildings that exist in Google Earth are nothing but a plot of land on Earthscape. The maps also don’t zoom in as close nor offer the clarity of Google Earth. There is also some choppiness in the images, some maps don't line up properly.
What is unique about Earthscape is that it offers a few more features than Google Earth. There is a Camera button that allows you to take cameras and plot them with geotagging. You can also see nearby pictures from the Earthscape community. Earthscape definitely offers more social networking options than Google Earth.
Earthscape also suffered the same crashing issues as Google Earth and includes Wikipedia articles for fun and interesting facts around the area.
Verdict: Google Earth just works better. Earthscape is a great app that offers some social networking features but its maps and usability simply cannot compare to Google Earth.
In all, Google Earth simply outclasses Earthscape. Though Earthscape was the first to come to the market, it simply does not utilize the control mechanisms that make Google Earth seem so effortless. Also, the map quality and zoom levels on Google Earth are far superior than those of Earthscape and for an app based on maps, that simply can’t be ignored.
Both apps have limited real-life use other than the cool tech “show off” factor for friends. Though Google Earth and Earthscape don’t offer the pure functionality of Google Maps (they both don’t have any street names or basic directions) there are still some neat features like Wikipedia Entries and Pictures (on Earthscape) that make them fairly unique.
For both apps, use on Wi-Fi was preferred but 3G and EDGE performance was commendable. However, the 3D view for both was much too taxing on the iPhone and it caused multiple crashes, and let’s face it, the 3D view is what makes Google Earth and Earthscape cool to begin with, so if you can’t get that right, you’ve already lost half the battle.
For pure usability, they both work well enough. Their features are fairly impressive and you do get a great looking glass view of the world with both. But in the end, Google Earth simply translates too well on the iPhone for Earthscape to seriously challenge it. The multi touch gestures, use of the accelerometer, and detailed maps make Google Earth the app to get.
App vs App Winner: Google Earth
Google Earth Rating: