The vast majority of tech users have a Google-driven experience every day and we have come to expect a seamless and flawless product regardless of the interface. So it follows that Google Earth VR provides an experience of the highest quality to anyone that pulls on the headset. Should we be surprised? Well, I was. Google Earth has been available to the masses for just over 17 years and while it initially provided a stunning platform to observe our Earth, the experience has not evolved much, aside from updated visual resolution.
Therefore, when I launched the application, I expected a visually interesting but ultimately familiar experience. Upon completion of a concise tutorial, Google Earth drops the user in Rio de Janeiro and it immediately becomes apparent how revolutionary this new iteration of Google Earth is.
Navigation with the hand-held controls is highly intuitive and the high-definition digital rendering is rapid and smooth, even when moving reasonably quickly over regions of variable topography and densely populated areas. The backing soundtrack is optional but increases relaxation and enjoyment. The visual and audio experience is deeply immersive, facilitating interaction with your imagination in a whole new way. To say the experience is immersive is perhaps too limited – it is overwhelming at times.
I have travelled to only a few international locations, but my immediate instinct was to revisit those that remain ever present in my memory. I revisited locations in Italy which when viewed in such clarity, brought the memories vividly back to life. I felt the experience again of watching the Formula 1’s at Monza, the peaceful joy of kayaking between towns on the Amalfi coast and, with the incredible street view, even where I stumbled upon ‘the greatest sandwich of all time’. Back in Australia I discovered continual high-definition imagery of the 223km Larapinta trail in central Australia. A trail I had walked ten years ago as a geologist in training, the VR experience transported me back in time. Seriously, you can stand almost anywhere in the world, places you have been or may never visit, and chances are there is a HD 360° panoramic view to put you right in that place. Have you ever wished you were on top of that mountain you climbed when the sun rose, or wondered what the night sky looks like in Greenland or Antarctica? No problem, pull and drag the sky with you right-hand to simulate the time of day you please. Simply put, Google Earth VR is one of the most immersive, enjoyable experiences you will have in the digital world. It leaves me shaking my head in wonder and asking just one question. What’s next?
Recommended time: >30min