If you've lost hours exploring strange places on Google Maps—and loved every moment of it—Google's new Immersive View could be an exciting prospect. Announced today at the company's I/O conference, Immersive View will basically let you soar, drone-like, through supported cities, taking in famous sights, exploring the inside of some buildings, and no doubt sharing valuable marketing data along the way.
Google hasn't shown it in much detail yet, but based on the gifs shared already, it kinda looks like a videogame. Think Cities: Skylines, or Civilization 6. In the example demoed during the I/O conference, London's Big Ben is shown. You're able to pan around Westminster Abbey, and can toggle on information including peak trading times, how hectic traffic will be, and what the weather forecast is. Once you're done hovering, you can drop to street level to explore on foot, and in a neat twist, Immersive View simulates weather, too. Check it in the video above (it starts at 1:21):
It's that last point about weather that's interesting. Yes, Immersive View is probably, fundamentally, just a fancier version of current Google Maps, one that zooms right down into neighbourhoods. But Google's move towards simulating the world, rather than just throwing up countless static photos of it, is what's fascinating, and quite reminiscent of Microsoft Flight Simulator. According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Immersive View uses “advances in 3D mapping and machine learning”, fusing “billions of aerial and street-level images to create a new high-fidelity representation of a place.”
The comparison to Microsoft Flight Simulator isn't as elementary as it sounds. Real time data is central to Immersive View, just as it is to the flying game. Sure, it'll no doubt be ridden with immersion-breaking overlays, but assuming you can toggle them off, I can see myself wasting days just flying around in this mode. It's coming soon, with support for Los Angeles, London, New York, San Francisco, and Tokyo.
The slow growth of Google Maps from simple pathfinding tool into a kind of virtual world has a slight whiff of metaverse about it, too. What if Google uses this tech to make its inevitable metaverse into a digital reconstruction of the real world, except with handy overlays telling you how busy your favourite bar is? Sounds fascinating, scary, and inexplicably annoying: just like real life.