Hi folks, I completely understand your perspectives on this. I'm a Geo-modeler and have been working in 3D and digital graphics for over 20 years. I also appreciate Randy's take on looking for new opportunities as the technology changes.
There's an old saying: "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." The perspective of a Geo-modeler is going to be much different than someone who's using Google Earth/Mobile, Google Maps/Mobile, and even more different than the folks who are planning for the future based on long term technology strategies. What you see today in many user-modeled cities, is a landscape of different colors/materials/photo-textures, different levels of detail/accuracy, different snapshots of time, different lighting/shadows, different placement (floating/sunken/misaligned) and many other inconsistencies. An individually hand-crafted model, or set of models, is going to have more detail than one that is generated using air-based stereo photogrammetry and LIDAR at this time, that's true. But the biggest problem has always been that it is extremely difficult to get a group of individuals to follow the same rules of consistency, accuracy, and cohesiveness for a largely populated area. Second to that is coverage...if it's not interesting to people, folks didn't model it, leaving thousands of building sites blank and creating an incomplete landscape. We had to find a better way if we are going to lead the technology into the future, or else get left behind.
This isn't about the replacement of an individual hand-crafted model, it's about the future of the technology and creating accurate and consistent information on a much larger scale, for a much wider audience.
This wasn't a decision we took lightly, and, knowing this would have a potentially negative impact on SketchUp and Building Maker Geo-modelers, we explored many options before deciding how to proceed. Given the popularity and importance of accurate data on mobile devices, I think folks need to step back and look at the digital mapping landscape in a different way than they're used to. I know this isn't an easy change to digest but the old method isn't going to work in the long term. Although it's a big change, this is just the beginning and there are a lot more possibilities for this new technology ahead.