From the Author:
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At this point it's almost hard to remember, but when Google Maps was first released in 2005, it was one of the first web applications to demonstrate what was possible with AJAX and the web platform. This project was a challenge technically but we’d like to think that it helped to fire the imaginations of web developers around the world.
Today, the Maps team is launching a beta of a brand new experience we call MapsGL. MapsGL is one of the first large scale applications to be built on top of WebGL. MapsGL makes use of 3D rendering and hardware graphics acceleration to provide an experience that is seamless, smooth, and runs directly in the browser.
Technically, MapsGL brings significant changes to how map and image tiles are rendered on the client and server. Rather than loading pre-rendered image tiles from servers, vector data for the map is sent to the browser and rendered on the fly using WebGL. This generally means that less data needs to be sent to the browser, but also that every aspect of the map needs to be rendered on the order of ~20ms per frame in order to achieve a reasonable frame rate. Imagery transitions in Maps are also enhanced by loading 3D metadata along with image tiles, allowing Maps to provide rich 3D transitions between different levels and angles of imagery.
While developing MapsGL, we found that WebGL draws from both native and web app backgrounds. For those used to working on web applications, WebGL adds a lot of functionality, but also increases the complexity of what you need to build and test. Even though WebGL is cross platform, performance varies dramatically across graphics hardware and operating systems - and what improves performance on one may hurt performance elsewhere - so testing across a wide array of setups is critical.
We hope that MapsGL makes you excited to use WebGL in your own app. WebGL enables 3D graphics and immersive experiences in the browser that were formerly impossible. As WebGL becomes more robust and graphics card drivers improve, we can't wait to see what web developers will create with it. Check out the WebGL documentation and get started!