Google has announced a handful of updates to the Google Earth Timelapse tool — including its long-overdue arrival on mobile phones.
By way of a quick recap, Google announced a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NASA, and TIME back in 2013 to show satellite imagery of Earth’s changes over a nearly 30-year period. Some examples included Alaskan glaciers melting, the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest, and urban growth in evolving cities such as Las Vegas.
Google announced an update to Timelapse in 2016, which included an expanded timeframe, clearer pictures, and more imagery. So far, however, Google Earth Timelapse has only been available on desktop, but from today it will be landing on smartphones and tablets too.
With the Extinction Rebellion socio-political movement gaining steam, and a general growing awareness of our planet’s plight, tools such as Timelapse are useful to demonstrate how Earth has changed over the past 35 years — seeing, after all, is believing. But given that millions of people exclusively use smartphones to access the internet in 2019, Timelapse will likely have been out-of-bounds for many, which is why its arrival on phones and tables is notable.
This functionality, according to Google, is now possible because the major mobile browsers now enable support for autoplaying videos — Timelapse uses millions of overlapping videos to show the Earth’s evolution over time.
“Up until recently, mobile browsers disabled the ability to autoplay videos, which is critical for Timelapse,” noted Chris Herwig, geo data engineer at Google Earth Outreach, in a blog post. “Chrome and Firefox reinstated support for autoplay (with sound muted), so we’ve added mobile support with this latest update.”
Other new features added to Timelapse include an additional two years worth of imagery data (up until 2018), a new toggle feature that lets the user easily switch to Google Maps to navigate the map, among other “visual upgrades” based around Google’s Material Design principles.
“The design of the new Timelapse interface leverages Material Design with simple, clean lines and clear focal areas, so you can easily navigate the immense dataset,” Herwig added.
Powered by Google Earth Engine, Google’s cloud computing platform for processing satellite imagery and geospatial data, Timelapse uses some 15 million satellite images. It’s worth noting here though that Timelapse doesn’t cover every spot on Earth — Google has specifically worked with various parties, including the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA Landsat, to compile 35 timelapses covering bushfires, coastal expansions, glacier retreats, deforestation, construction projects, urbran growth, among other landscape changes that are visible from space.