Google Earth for Mac: Big Disappointment

Google has released a Macintosh Google Earth client. In short, a sub-par user experience sitting on top of a brilliant treasure trove of data.

The mapping features are amazing. The actual rendering is significantly higher resolution than the map data available through Google Maps and the app offers a slew of useful data overlays.

That is where the positive note ends. The user interface is poorly designed and only cosmetically resembles a Mac OS X application. There is a huge amount of screen real estate wasted on rarely used controls, thus reducing the Map area to a relatively tiny portion of the screen.

During operation, the application’s responsiveness is extremely choppy. Many things do not track the mouse as one expects after having used just about any other Macintosh application.

Update: click on through for the rest of the story with an update…..

Overall, it looks and feels like an X11 application. That, combined with a overly busy user interface that does not focus on the core display (which is quite fantastic in and of itself) leads to an application that is just terribly unpleasant to use.

If it weren’t for the unique presentation and incredible wealth of information available in the main view, Google Earth would have hit the trash can about 4 minutes after being downloaded.

Bottom line: Google should dump this client and start over on the Mac.

Update: As Frank of Google Earth Blog pointed out, the app is considerably more usable if you hide the nasty UI down the left side of the window. And it is. Still clunky, still doesn’t feel like a Mac app, but that definitely focuses one onto the rather beautiful maps and data overlays in the main window.

Visit Frank’s site as it is truly an awesome collection of various random bits of Google Earth goodness. Subscribed.



17 Responses to “Google Earth for Mac: Big Disappointment”

  1. Daniel Jalkut says:

    I completely agree. This port represents a very “un-Google-like” public image on any platform.

    I guess anybody who wants to compete with Google knows that they are extremely weak in the platform application department.

  2. Stefan Seiz says:

    Yep, absolutely agree too. Awful GUI, nice Satelite Date. And i never manage to get a smooth animation flying longer distances. Guess one could tweak some preferences to get better caching, but just look at the preferences – geee – can’t handle that and neither can my mom.

  3. Luc Heinrich says:

    Not really surprising, it’s a Qt3 crap-o-la application…

  4. Greg Bolsinga says:

    At first I thought it was a JDK 1.3 AWT application with the odd look, but it is actually QT. See Google Earth.app/Contents/MacOS/libqt.3.dylib. Are there any other commercial QT apps targeting Mac OS X?

  5. n[ate]vw says:

    Even on Windows, the application is not very pleasing. For now, I’m sticking with USGS’s National Map Viewer for my apartment-based geographical exploring.

  6. Matt Johnston says:

    Looks like Google Earth is using Trolltech’s Qt rather than something native, and it shows.

  7. John C. Randolph says:

    They should make a deal with Software MacKiev to write their Mac client. MacKiev already has a far better-looking globe to start from.

    -jcr

  8. Michael Tsai - Blog - Google Earth for Mac says:

    […] Bill Bumgarner: […]

  9. David Young says:

    It’s Qt/Mac. I kinda complained about this at http://www.stuffonfire.com/2005/12/google_earth_using_qt_1.html a while back when the leaked version was, well, leaked.

    They were demoing Earth at MWSF yesterday, and a friend said that he could understand why Google would look to leverage a cross-platform UI toolkit. I said to him, “Do you really thinkg Google doesn’t have the resources to hire talented engineers to develop a great looking UI for each and every platform?”

  10. Greg says:

    It’s not too bad on a 30″ cinema display – adds a new dimension to the term “emersive 3D environment.” But I have to agree it is very un-mac-like

  11. Frank Taylor says:

    As an experienced GE user from the Windows side, let me point out some features to help you guys out. Try toggling on/off the parts of the UI you don’t like either using the “Tools” menu or the keyboard shortcuts. This way you can focus on the part of the UI you like best. For example, to turn off the admittedly wasteful navigation panel, choose the first option in the “Tools” menu. Or hit Control-1 (assuming it is the same key on the Mac).

    Unfortunately, the current beta of the Mac doesn’t support the Full-screen mode which quickly removes the UI elements and lets you just browse the world. They will release that in an update soon I’m sure, along with support for OS X 10.3.9 and hopefully the Universal Binary to run on the new Intel Macs.

  12. devin chalmers says:

    I much prefer NASA WorldWind’s interface. It’s cleaner, and they handle the mouse much better. (Why does scrolling down zoom in in Google Earth? I am never going to get used to that…) Unfortunately, WorldWind is perpetually about-to-begin-the-planning-process-to-examine-the-possibility-of-a-non-windows-port-at-some-point-in-the-not-immediate-future, so Google Earth is all we got so far.

    Myself, I hide every single one of those fugly Google Earth panes–it’s all about the Earth, baby. As long as you have a 3-button mouse it’s gravy. Scroll (or right-click-drag–garn blasted redundancy!) to zoom (though, again, upside-down…), left-click-drag to move, middle-click-drag to tilt and rotate–much better than the UI controls. The preferences UI is still a shambles, though, and for a company that values such great, minimalistic interfaces on the Web, the sidebars are uuuugly and crowded and useless. I suspect much of the problem is that they inherited the UI from that horrible old Keyhole program. It’ll get better–I hope. (Hey, wonder if I can score a Summer of Code internship writing a decent Mac UI…)

    Now what someone really needs to do is write a zero lines-of-code WorldWind/Google Earth clone in Quartz Composer. Would that be hot, or would that be hot? I don’t imagine it would be too difficult, except for the terrain bumpmapping. Downloading and displaying textures from the internet based on mousewheel and dragging input sounds right up QC’s alley, though. Anyone want to take it on?

  13. WAHa.06x36 says:

    Quartz Composer is nowhere near ready for a task like that. It can make cute little toys, but without even the most basic control over polygons, and only interpreted code, it couldn’t do anything remotely resembling Google Earth.

  14. Frank Taylor says:

    Thanks for the kind words about my blog in your update. By the way, I highly recommend you give your feedback directly to the Google Earth team by going to the new Mac OSX Support Forum for GE at:

    http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/postlist.php/Cat/0/Board/SupportGEMac

    The actual developers read and respond in that forum. They also will want to hear about your problems with responsiveness (and may be able to help you figure it out).

  15. Darth Sidious says:

    Well, on a 30″ display, it doesn’t look bad. Part of the bad experience I’m facing are:

    – best quality preferences are slow even on a PowerMac G5 Quad + 7800 GT.

    – poor zooming experience due to the crappy Apple Mighty Mouse scroll button and non intuitive zooming feedback.

    – only the centered rectangle is properly anti-aliased.

    – the UI is OK for a windows port but the it doesn’t feel native at all.

  16. Matt McIrvin says:

    The thing that really needs to be hidden is the navigation bar at the bottom. But when you start up with that hidden, the compass goes away.

    The problem with hiding the sidebar is that I’d really like the search window to still be visible. But it’s all or nothing: lose the search window, lose the sidebar.

    My impression from playing with the Windows version is that many of the UI faults of the Mac version are also in there (though there are some platform-specific bugs too). I think most of the big problems are inherited from Keyhole.

    Maybe I ought to start posting on that board…

  17. iMeem | toxicsoftware.com says:

    […] bridge here. This definitely changes the face of cross-platform development on the Mac, I wonder if Google is taking note.More linke: http://zacwhite.com/blog/?p=36Share this:ShareEmailFacebook This entry […]

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