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Google Earth's 3-D buildings come to iOS

Google Earth SF
Google Earth

iPad and iPhone owners will be pleased to hear that Google has updated the iOS version of Google Maps to include their impressive 3-D maps of a number of cities. You can also now take a virtual aerial tour of locations via a film strip interface at the bottom of the map.

The Android and PC versions of Google Earth have had the 3-D cities for some time, in keeping with Google's recent habit of rolling out features on those platforms several months before bringing them to iOS. The update is free and available now.

There are only 13 cities with 3-D imagery so far, but Google says in the announcement that they're adding more all the time:

The growing list of 3-D cities include Boulder, Boston, Charlotte, Lawrence (Kan.), Long Beach (Ca.), Los Angeles, Portland (Ore.), San Diego, Santa Cruz, Tampa, Tucson, and the San Francisco Bay Area (including the Peninsula and East Bay) as well as Rome, Italy. We’ll keep building and releasing 3D imagery for new locations as fast as we can and by the end of the year we aim to have coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people.

Google Earth
Google Earth

The feature isn't without its quirks. Sometimes the 3-D imagery doesn't mesh quite right with the other satellite imagery, as you can see with the Golden Gate bridge and its twin.

And the new iPad's high-resolution screen does emphasize the flaws in the models and photography, but overall it's the same exploratory fun that other platforms have had for a while now. Download Google Earth at the App Store here.

Apple has promised a new maps app for iOS 6 this fall that also includes 3-D buildings and landscapes, but it's not clear yet which cities will be included and how the 3-D function will differ from Google's.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is