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Google Maps adds a 3D Globe Mode

Did you ever realize most 2D maps misrepresent country sizes?
Did you ever realize most 2D maps misrepresent country sizes?

Image: Lonely Planet/Unsplash

Take a look at a map today, and you might think North America is larger than Africa or Greenland is larger than Mexico and China. 

But that’s not true in the slightest. The issue derives from trying to represent a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface. Luckily for everyone, Google is solving this problem with the latest update to Google Maps.

Google announced Thursday it will begin showing the Earth as a globe rather than a flat “mercator projection” as it formerly had. The result is that when you zoom out all the way in Google Maps, you’ll now see a view of the globe from space, rather than the flat map that was previously shown.

What’s best about this update is that it’s coming to all desktop users regardless of the respective web browser, thanks to the global Web GL standard. 

While this does confirm that Google Maps is not part of the flat earth movement, it also speaks to the importance and impact of the company’s other mapping service Google Earth. The latter has always presented the world in 3D and is used more for storytelling, exploration, and of course education. Earth is limited to Google Chrome and as it uses a proprietary 3D rendering engine based on Native Client software that is exclusive to the browser.

Google Maps announced the change on Twitter and wasn’t shy about the flattening issue fix. In the announcement, the company notes that Greenland, which is 836,300 square miles, is no longer the size of Africa which is 11.73 million square miles. The reason these two countries look relative in size on a 2D map is to compensate for the circular shape of the Earth, which stretches the countries out. 

The sizing of Greenland and Africa is now correct.

The sizing of Greenland and Africa is now correct.

Truthfully, Greenland is quite small in comparison to Africa, both in real life and now depicted correctly on this 3D Globe. However, Google Maps has not been the only one struggling with this. Apple Maps is currently still showing a flat view of the world. 

For what it’s worth, even maps in school do this. Thinking back to my elementary school days, I can clearly remember looking at the oval-shaped map being pulled down from above the chalkboard.

Maybe schools should switch to Google Maps then, especially since Chrome and Apple are duking it out for the education space, anyway.

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