When Microsoft debuted Live Search Maps/Virtual Earth in 3-D last November there were many “oohs” and “aahs” but there was also the question: “Where’s New York?” It was not among the original 3-D cities that the Virtual Earth team rolled out. Now that omission has been rectified with the launch this morning of New York and a range of other U.S. cities and Ottawa, Canada. Here’s a spectacular video of the new 3-D rendering of New York.
I was unable, however, to duplicate these views on Virtual Earth 3-D when I checked this morning. I also compared Google Earth, which has numerous New York buildings rendered in 3-D but not yet the entire city.
Google has apparently licensed technology to do automated 3-D rendering to accelerate the build out of 3-D cities. It has also been running contests and encouraging users to build more 3-D models with SketchUp, its rendering tool.
In a way, we might liken 3-D to luxury automobiles that most people don’t buy because they’re too expensive; it’s the high end of the mapping market. For day to day uses (e.g., directions, local search), 3-D maps on Windows Live or Google Earth are too slow to load (on most people’s connections) and cumbersome to be really useful. While they’re very interesting and useful for some, they’re more of a novelty for most people — today.
But 3-D mapping and “immersive” environments like this are really about future applications that become pretty interesting to contemplate. Think of them as more practical versions of SecondLife, “metaverses” that will offer lots of content, e-commerce opportunities (i.e., Travel) and even social networking in the near future, as connection speeds improve. And these 3-D worlds will play well on TV, as the Internet increasingly makes its way into the living room.