The advent of multi-touch displays, such as those found in iPads, has radically transformed the way we interface with spatial data. But as David Daw of PC World suggested, they are just “way too square”. For geographers, the idea of forcing a round (oblate) world onto a flat surface is nothing new. However, after centuries of doing just that we are on the brink of reversing course and re-embracing the sphere. To bring the point home, Mark Vanhoenacker of the New Times recently witnessed a group of school children visiting the Cape Town Science Center. While they passed by and largely ignored the “tattered and lifeless” traditional globe we have grown to love, they stood awe-struck by the “shining sphere of light” that is the 6 foot digital globe. Thanks to innovations such as multi-touch and continually declining prices (24 inch models start at $21,000), digital globes may one day fill classrooms across the world. In fact, according to Vanhoenacker, 80 percent of the digital globes currently being produced are bound for Chinese classrooms.
For those not ready to withdraw $21,000 from their retirement account just yet, do-it-yourselfers have shown that non-spherical multi-touch globes can be built for as little as $300.