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

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.



Google Earth

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.


Final Thoughts

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:

Earthscape Rating:

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Reader comments

App vs App: Google Earth vs Earthscape


GEarth crashes within a minute always. The app needs a lot of work. Thanks for the info that earthscape crashes as well. Why can't earth be integrated with maps?

Earthscape has the huge bonus that it is truly global: available all over the Earth, whereas Google Earth only in 22 countries. Go figure.

I tried Earthscape a couple of times but even after it was updated, it wasn't much use in the UK. What I like about it, though, is the ability to upload pictures in the app. With Google Earth, photos are submitted to Panoramio and vetted before submission to Google Earth. It looks like the iphone version is incomplete - I know I've got quite a few photos on GE but they aren't all appearing in the app. The lack of street names in this version takes some getting used to but the app does seem to be able to find addresses with difficulty.
Out of the two apps, I do prefer Google Earth as the quality when zooming in is better and I love the use of the accelerometer.

I agree with others. Google earth is awesome but can crash on occasions. Never tried earthscape though.

I have tried both, but my biggest problem (with both) is that the seem to be so slow. Maybe that was just my internet connection, but it didn't make playing with them any fun.

good review, hope I win because I have no paid apps lol..
But I prefer google earth but keep earthscape on my iPhone.

Google Earth has crashed everytime I've used it. I've deleted it; I'll wait for an update.

Google Earth does crash quite frequently, but at least it remembers what you were looking at when it crashed, the next time you start it! The Autotilt feature is a little useless IMO; it feels like I'm riding a seesaw sometimes.

I agree Google Earth is better, bu it has its problems too. For example, its accelerometer is too sensitive.

GEarth is an extremely powerful app on a mobile device. It works well, though does crash from time to time. When we have the opportunity to have this much information at the tip of our fingers, anywhere, we should stop and realize it is amazing. I bet Google can't even get it to work on Android!

both apps crash way too much. But the ui for google earth is far more intuitive. Also it runs much more smoothly than earthscape

Google Earth wins hands down. Earthscape is definitely a great app in it's own right though. I can just see myself using Google Earth's one button locate. I also like how you can actually control and manipulate the Earth at will. The GUI on Google Earth is simply breath-taking.

Google map rotating map is a plus. The tilting "3D" perspective is more of a gimmick though.
Earthscape photos seem more of a distractions. Reading about different city info is interesting and educational. My 2 cents.

For me earthscape wins becauseit is available worldwide.. google earth sucks coz it limits itselft to only 22 countries.

for me earthscape is much better, intutive, stable, gearth crashes and is boring...their desktop is much better. also it's nice to have someone else in the game beside the google monopoly..

Google Earth iPhone App is a good complement to its desktop counterpart, but with a few neat additions. Like on the desktop version, you can search for an address and view it from far away or as close as almost street level, seeing an overhead shot of the location as if you were a few feet above the building.

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