Google has further enhanced its use of WebGL to now add more 3D perspective to buildings seen on its MapsGL project, an alternative version of Google Maps (which received the improvement in March). The improvements now add a “parallax” view that allows users to pan around buildings and see them from different angles while still in overhead view. The buildings become translucent in order to avoid obscuring roadways or other landmarks while panning, and are most noticeable on taller buildings.
The increased use of WebGL techniques will also give users an increased sense of height and make the transition between overhead and street-level views (where available) smoother. WebGL is also used to more seamlessly blend different photos of a place, and to “bend” photos to create more perspective and movement.
The MapsGL version has the added advantage of not requiring any client-side plug-ins to work, meaning that even older machines (with suitable graphics cards) can experience the complex graphic effects reasonably smoothly. WebGL is enabled in recent versions of Chrome and Firefox, and can be turned on in Safari 5.1 and later through the normally-hidden “develop” menu, which can be enabled in Safari’s advanced preferences. Those users who have installed Google Earth and it’s browser plug-in will see the same enhancements automatically via the plug-in.
The company has set up a number of “photo tours” of famous landmarks (such as the Coliseum in Rome) that users can experience once they have turned on the WebGL ability of their browser. Once detected, Google Maps will use MapsGL as the default, though users can go back to non-GL enhanced views if they desire.