Google Earth’s updates, and Dell’s eye-catching usage

Google (GOOG) on Thursday announced upgrades to Google Earth, its 3D mapping tool. The improvements include land and buildings in every inhabited continent. Below is a list of Google’s hints about what’s changed – a clever way to get people to open up the app and fly around.

  • Two states known for their majestic peaks have gotten an upgrade.
  • I can now see where my favorite maple syrup is made.
  • Certain Florida beaches (and 1 mountain) are looking much improved.
  • Try counting the warthogs in the Boneyard.
  • Peek inside the home of the Brew Crew.
  • You can read the Skin’s logo painted on their field.
  • An historic state capitol building is now in high res.
  • This city was named after the Native American name of a nearby mountain, “Tacobet.”
  • A “far away” city that played a key role in trans-Saharan trade can now be seen close up.
  • The town where Jane Austen spent her final years is much clearer.
  • The topic of Vincent van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night is now bright as day.
  • Take a look at “la ville noir,” where Cointreau was invented.
  • Only a third of this country’s land is arable, but you can now view the entire country in high res.
  • From 1880 to 1884 this German city was home to the world’s tallest building.
  • Rockets may be used to disrupt rain clouds over this city next summer.
  • This country received an impressive terrain update, you might call it Lord of the Terrain.

What caught my eye, though, was a related announcement about upgrades to Google Earth Enterprise. Google Earth Enterprise is a version of the software that large corporations can use to plan their operations and analyze data. Think of it as one of those big, push-pin war-room maps, only digital and in three dimensions. Businesses can layer their own data on top of a 3D map of the world, and visualize where customers are, where sales are happening in real-time – whatever they want.

The latest version is faster, and perhaps most important, allows customers to easily generate 2-D versions of map data for a browser, and share that with colleagues.

Google also offered a rare peek at a way that one customer, Dell (DELL), uses Google Earth. Click the image above for a full-screen look at how Dell uses 3D maps to analyze where the traffic to is coming from. (Continued below.)

This particular use also sparked a different sort of “aha” moment for me: Maps are basically another lens through which we view information – like a spreadsheet. Google is in the business of helping people to locate and digest information more quickly. By providing the tools – things like Search and Earth – Google is organizing information into a format that will hold people’s attention and loyalty. And once you have people’s attention and loyalty, you have something that advertisers will pay for.

Because of this attention and loyalty mindset, Google is approaching Web from a very different perspective than chief rival Microsoft (MSFT). Microsoft tends to make everything it does tie into Windows, or into some other platform it has created. Microsoft has owned our digital attention for a long time because it won the PC operating system wars – its technology strategy often seems focused on leveraging those advantages.

We’ll see who comes out on top. But Google’s latest moves – such as its Google Earth upgrades – are increasingly putting it on a collision course with Microsoft. Google’s not so much fighting for our PC operating system, or for our use of certain programs. No, Google mainly wants our loyalty and attention.

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