Google has unveiled a wealth of changes now being introduced for its Google Earth Timelapse feature, now allowing satellite image-based time-lapse viewing that extends as far as from 1984 to 2018. That's an extra two years from the previous iteration of the tool but the biggest change may be that users on either Chrome or Firefox on mobile or tablets can access the web applet too.
The change is made possible thanks to both Google and Mozilla's recent decision to turn back on now-muted auto-playing video features Google Earth Timelapse depends on in the mobile version of their respective browsers.
To better suit the Android platform and for improved consistency across the search giant's services, the tool has been redesigned in a decidedly "Material" direction too. On mobile devices, that means a bright top bar showcasing the site title next to a three-dash menu. Just below that is a search bar for entering longitude and latitude coordinates, hovering over a carousel that demonstrates which year is being shown.
New means new
Another big change is in place for the Google Earth Timelapse tool that applies specifically to the way users can explore the resulting video-like maps beyond their basic starting point. That starts with the fact that, unlike the bottom bar seen in other recent Material Design 2.0 updates, a slide-up card is in place for quick access to information and other aspects of the current map.
For a more intuitive exploration across a variety of locations expanding out from the user's starting point, circular Google Maps-style icons have been added as well. Those controls allow for the timelapse to be paused or played, sharing of the current timelapse, or for users to move around and zoom on the map via a Google Maps interface.
That's not just an aesthetic change either. Tapping, dragging, pinching and other gesture style touches correspond consistently with the Google Maps application. Effectively, users can start at one location, zoom out, pan, and view another area without having to type anything new into the search bar.
The UI changes also serve the additional purpose of clearing away any clutter that might otherwise get in the way while watching a timelapse, leaving users to explore unimpeded on mobile devices or online.
How to get started on Android
Viewing the reworked mapping features found in Google's Earth Timelapse works almost exactly as it does on the web. To get started, either the Google Chrome or Firefox browser is required, as noted above. From there, navigating to the Google Earth Engine and clicking the "Timelapse" option under the three-dash menu at the top-right-hand side will load up the applet.
For the uninitiated, the time-lapse feature is a joint effort between Carnegie Mellon's CREATE Lab and Google, utilizing imagery from the U.S. Geological Survey/NASA Landsat and European Sentinel programs. It doesn't only allow users to explore changes on the Earth's surface via a combination of more than 15 million images, but it's also used primarily as a tool for scientists, documentarians and journalists whose work centers around those changes.
There are catered experiences to be discovered too, stretching across an assortment of environmental changes from high-impact large brushfires, coastal changes, and naturally altered river routes to urban growth and the growth of mining for large-scale operations.