Google has partnered with the Catlin Seaview Survey to generate a collection of underwater panoramics.

Google Maps has been enjoying the spotlight recently, thanks to Apple's decision to boot the app from its mobile devices and introduce its own 'not-ready-for-primetime' mapping service in iOS6. So it may come as no surprise that on the heels of Apple's PR nightmare, Google announced a new feature: ocean exploration.

That's right, Google Maps will send you underwater...and not because you are blindly following a GPS into a lake.

The images are stunning, thanks to a partnership with the Catlin Seaview Survey and their SVII cameras that provide crystal clear panoramics along with geolocation data. Six initial locations have been mapped: islands in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the Molokini Crater near Maui, Hanauma Bay in Oahu, and the Apo Islands in the Philippines. These make a great addition to Google's growing collection, which includes other remote sites like Antarctica and the Amazon.

Explore the Great Barrier Reef yourself below (note the familiar Street View navigation toward the bottom):

Or you can just watch Google's promotional video:

In case you wondered, those cameras capture images every three seconds as they move at two miles per hour, according to Technology Review.

Now, on the surface, underwater mapping may not seem like a game changer in the world of maps. After all, Apple had good reason to get into mapping and their app will get fixed, eventually. But with this feature, this addition sets Google apart from Apple in the world of maps in three ways.

First, Google is using underwater panoramics to underscore the maturity of its service. The company has already mastered roads (Google Maps), the Earth as a whole (Google Earth), and even the stars (Google Sky). Maps is also building out its collection of building interiors. Basically, Google is going into the ocean because it can...meaning it isn't bogged down getting basic road maps working., which have been pretty reliable for years.

Second, exploration is in Google's DNA. The company has long branded itself around technology that lets you explore (check out the new "Hello world" video pushing this heavily), from search to more recent efforts like the augmented reality of Google Glass and self-driving cars with its first user being a legally blind man. And let's not forget that the two of the five main investors for the recently formed asteroid-mining company, Planetary Resources, are Google CEO Larry Page and former CEO Eric Schmidt. In other words, the company embodies exploration and being at the frontier, so exploring the ocean fits right in.

Third, it goes without saying that Google is a forward thinking company. Why would taking images of the oceans be an investment in the future? Perhaps as a natural next step in mapping the entire ocean (the first being the rough ocean mapping in Google Earth). Technology is starting to make the oceans much more accessible, from James Cameron's dive to the Mariana Trench in his self-made $8 million 'vertical torpedo' sub to the fleet of autonomous robots from Liquid Robotics. The ocean is important for science, the environment, sustainability, and history, just to name a few, so Google's efforts in mapping the ocean help it become an important player in many ways.

From a consumer point of view, it's just awesome that Google keeps expanding its maps for free. Who knows? Maybe someday Google will head into caves for virtual spelunking too!

With all the technology available to us today, it's pretty crazy that we still don't know what kind of life is lurking in the deep. Although including coral reefs into Google Maps is merely a small step into the vastness of the world's oceans, it's a great start.

I've been writing for Singularity Hub since 2011 and have been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. My interests cover digital education, publishing, and media, but I'll always be a chemist at heart.