Google Earth for iPad, iPhone gets 3D cities and guided tours

With every software update rolled out for Google Earth, it becomes increasingly likely that the day will come where people no longer climb into their car or board a plane to go on vacation, but instead sink into a comfy sofa holding nothing but a tablet computer.

Google brought 3D imagery and virtual tours to iOS users of its virtual globe offering on Thursday, features that have been available for Android users since the end of last month.

Owners of the new iPad, iPad 2 and iPhone 4S will be able to enjoy the new additions to the software, which add yet another layer to the  Google Earth experience.

Granted, there aren’t a huge number of cities mapped in 3D at the current time, but the web giant is working on it with the intention of adding many more before the year’s out. For now, check out the 3D recreations of Boulder, Boston, Charlotte, Lawrence (Kan.), Long Beach (Ca.), Los Angeles, Portland (Ore.), San Diego, Santa Cruz, Tampa, Tucson, and San Francisco. Outside of the US, only Rome is mapped in 3D, though it will soon be joined by others.

Google has also added a ‘tour guide’ feature that you can access by pulling up a tab at the bottom of the screen. This fires up images of various landmarks local to your map location. All you do is tap on one of the places of interest, sit back and let Google Earth fly you around it. As you’re taken on a ride around the landmark, information pulled from Wikipedia fills you in with some facts and figures linked to what you’re looking at.

Of course, it works best with locations within the 3D cities, as otherwise you’re left looking at famous landmarks that have been distorted out of all recognition. The Eiffel Tower, for example, has no 3D representation yet, so as you’re flown around it, the structure is actually hard to spot. A ride around the Golden Gate Bridge, on the other hand, shows off the new feature superbly.

Apple is also set to introduce 3D mapping with the launch of its new custom-built Maps app in iOS 6, replacing Google Maps on its mobile devices.

The Google Earth update is available from the iTunes store now. 

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