We woke this morning to find Google has made some improvements to its 3D model of London in Google Earth. All the city’s buildings are now based on 45-degree aerial imagery, which should mean a marked improvement in accuracy of building shapes. So how much has it improved?

Firstly to compare the new Google London against an earlier version of itself, here are screenshots of the British Museum:

2010

British_Museum_GE_2010

2014

British_Museum_GE_2014

A mixed improvement. The computer game-style model of 2010 (I believe partly the product of crowdsourced individual 3D building models) is replaced by a continuous meshed surface. But as Apple found two years ago (embarrassingly) this method is prone to the inclusion of errors and artefacts – the BM’s roof is a big improvement, but its columns are now wonky and the complex shapes in the neighbouring rooftops are a bit messy. But we should recognised that this is an inevitable consequence of the shift to a more fully automated process – presumably the constraints on data size and processing power limit result in a trade-off between its resolution and accuracy. But to remedy this there seems to have been some manual correction to parts of the model – e.g. the London Eye looks touched up (despite some tree-coloured spokes):

London Eye

To compare the model with its main competitor, Apple Maps I’ve done a few screenshots, firstly

St Paul’s Cathedral

Google Earth

St_Pauls_GE

Apple Maps

St_Pauls_Apple

Google’s far superior St Paul’s again suggests manual correction or, possibly, their retention of the original model.

10 Downing Street

For anyone who hasn’t been there (author included) this is Mr Cameron’s back garden.

Google

No.10_GE

Apple

No.10_Apple

Apple have clearly done a better job on the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury. The contrast and brightness make for a much clearer and realistic depiction, partly due to Apple’s higher resolution and partly because the time of day of Google’s survey meant more shadows.

Center Point

Chosen because Google are unlikely to have manicured a building site. As you can see Google still have some work to equal Apple’s resolution.

Google

Center_Point_GE

Apple

Center_Point_Apple

Buckingham Palace

Last but not least, the house of someone called Elizabeth Windsor who judging by Google’s model likes to have receptions in her expansive back garden.

Google

Palace_GE

Apple

Palace_Apple

Overall I think it’s fair to say a necessary improvement by Google but still very much work-in-progress. It is worth mentioning that Google provides a more move immersive environment (the interface lets the camera go lower and to angle horizontally) whereas Apple’s feel like a diorama (e.g. no sky), albeit one that interacts much more smoothly. And of course Google Earth is much more than just a 3D map. But given their better resolution and seeming clarity of imagery in my opinion Apple keeps the crown for best 3D model.

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