Google today announced it plans to retire the Google Earth API on December 12, 2015. The reason is simple: Both Chrome and Firefox are removing support for Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI) plugins due to security reasons, so the API’s death was inevitable.

The timing makes sense. Last month, Google updated its plan for killing off NPAPI support in Chrome, saying that it would block all plugins by default in January and drop support completely in September. The company also revealed that the Google Earth plugin had dropped in usage from 9.1 percent of Chrome users in October 2013 to 0.1 percent in October 2014. Add dwindling cross-platform support (particularly on mobile devices), and we’re frankly surprised the announcement didn’t come sooner.

The Google Maps and Google Earth terms of services states that APIs should continue to be supported and function for at least one year. Because the announcement is being made on December 12, 2014 (today), the API will thus be turned off exactly 12 months later.

For the next year, the following browsers will still be supported:

  • Microsoft Windows (XP, Vista, 7, and 8): Google Chrome 5.0-39.0 (32-bit), Internet Explorer 7-9 and 10-11 with Compatibility View (32-bit), and Firefox 11.0-34.0
  • Apple Mac OS X 10.6 or later (any Intel Mac): Google Chrome 5.0-39.0 (32-bit), Safari 3.1+, and Firefox 11.0-34

Chrome and Firefox both have cutoffs because these browsers are dropping NPAPI support. If IE and Safari also drop NPAPI in later releases, the API naturally won’t work on those new browser versions either.

The Google Earth API was released over six years ago to let developers build rich 3D mapping applications using JavaScript. There is still hope, though, as Google hints it is cooking up some sort of alternative: “3D is in our blood, and while we can’t announce anything just now, we look forward to sharing more exciting product news in the future.”

Two months ago, Google updated Google Earth for Android with new 3D rendering technology, overhauling the system for the first time since the service launched more than 10 years ago. At the time, the company promised “more 3D updates in the coming months” and hinted to VentureBeat that the technology would arrive in other products as well. 2015 is already shaping up to be a lot of fun for mapping enthusiasts.

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