Google Adds Satellite Images to Maps

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Google has enhanced its Google Maps and Google Local services with satellite and aerial images, letting users view digital snapshots of an area, the Mountain View, California, company announced Tuesday.

Now, users of Google Maps can choose to see an overhead photograph of the area they searched for instead of a conventional graphical map. The same option is provided to users of the Google Local index of business listings.

As is possible with Google's conventional maps, users can zoom in and out of the image, as well as drag it in any direction to view cropped-out sections. When users request driving directions, Google lays over the image a line linking the two destinations, as it does with its conventional maps.

Good for House Hunting

The new functionality comes from Keyhole, a company Google bought last year. It can be accessed in Google's local area and in the search engine's maps area.

The satellite and aerial images will be handy for a variety of users, says John Hanke, the Keyhole unit's general manager. For example, users who are visually oriented might find it easier for planning driving directions, while those in the process of moving to a new place will be able to survey the locations of houses or apartments they may be considering, he says. Likewise, users who are booking travel will be able to scan the surroundings of available hotels, he says.

The images come from a variety of private-sector and government sources and are refreshed typically every 12 to 18 months, he says. They cover the continental United States as well as some cities in Canada and Baja California, which is part of Mexico.

Can't Zoom Too Closely

For those concerned about privacy, the service doesn't zoom in to a degree that would let a user, say, identify a person or peek in a window, Hanke says.

Google sells downloadable versions of Keyhole with extra features not available on the Web site. A version for individual users costs $29 per year, while one for businesses costs $599 per year.

The version for individuals, among other things, lets the user "fly" across the areas being scanned in a video-game-like experience, Hanke says. The business version has features such as measuring the size of an area and exporting the flying "movie" experience to other applications such as software for presentations, he says.

Google will continue to develop the fee-based versions, as well as the free service, because the company feels they appeal to different types of users, Hanke says.

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