The ability to explore far-flung areas from the comfort of your laptop is one of the joys of using Google's wealth of 3D mapping data. Now the search giant has gone a step further by turning those maps into interactive, educational playgrounds with its new Android app called Verne: The Himalayas. The new app is a cross between a really simple mobile game and a 3D map of the world's highest mountain range. You control an adorable, rotund yeti and can wander around the mountains as if you were playing a third-person adventure game.
There is a virtual D-pad for handling movement, and a single button that lets you jump and interact with objects when you get close enough to them. There is no set path, so you can explore at your own pace, and as you do you will come across things like a ceremonial Tibetan horn you can play a tune on, or an umbrella that lets you soar into the air to get a bird's-eye view of the mountains.
At certain points you can zoom in to a Google Street View perspective to get a closer look at places of interest. All along the trail you will come across speakers that reel off facts and historical tidbits about the Himalayas, as if you were on a walking tour. Google bills the app as an experiment, but it is quite fully featured. While it is not exactly an entire history lesson, you can learn a lot by exploring the region for a short while.
The exploratory nature means you can actually seek out new places and objects. It is easy to see how the concept could be expanded to other areas: wandering amongst the pyramids, or venturing through the Australian outback, all while controlling some kind of cute critter. Though Google has not announced any such plans, there is a distinct possibility that it might go in that direction