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It can't hold a candle to Google's streetview penetration, but Bing's winning the feature war.
In return for a hefty ticket price, the annual TED conference in Palm Springs and Long Beach, CA, inebriates its audience with inspiration, wonder, and warm fuzzies. By the time the attendees sit through a morning's worth of sessions, each gasp of fascination becomes harder to elicit. Drawing one is good; getting several is a feat. This year, the gasp frequency award may have gone to Microsoft's presentation of Bing Maps.
No, I am not joking. It's true that at this point neither Microsoft nor maps generally inspire much wonder. The oohs and aahs that Google and Apple get for new releases usually put Microsoft to shame. But Bing Maps may be the most underhyped product in the tech blogosphere. Here are several ways Bing is beating Google in maps:
Go to Seattle on Bing Maps, and zoom all the way in. Bing has incorporated Google Earth-style visual movement with their maps to create a seemless transition between aerial and street-level views. Moving along a street in Bing Maps also has a touch of Star Trek-esque “warp speed” effect which looks very cool, though it's still a bit choppy with standard connection speeds. (See the video below at about 2:15).
Bing has developed a number of apps that overlay the map or street view with geo-specific data. Currently, there are 22 such apps, including a Twitter map, a restaurant finder, travel webcam map for real-time video, and a local restaurants map. A couple days after the earthquake in Haiti, Bing had an earthquake map that showed before and after pictures from the sky. Another app takes hyperlocal blogs and maps those stories to the places referred to on the blogs.
Several of Bing's apps are present in some form or other in Google Maps. User-generated photos have long been part of Google's offering, for instance. But Bing’s Flickr App incorporates crowd-generated photos by mapping them directly onto the street-level view. This lets viewers toggle between moments other than the one in which the Bing truck passed by, again providing a more seemless immersive experience. You can also find historic imagery there, enabling viewers to see streets lined by horses and carriages.
Microsoft is also attempting to go beyond the streetside view, to incorporate interiors of public buildings, with images taken on a camera pack.
One of the most visually compelling gimmicks (yes, for now it’s still a gimmick), is the incorporation of live webcams, mapped onto the street view. The effect needs to be seen in video form—in the embedded video, go to 4:45 and watch for about 20 seconds. Watching this effect, it’s easy to let the imagination wander to a point in the not-too near future when 4G, Wimax webcams are ubiquitous and users can have an immersive 3D experience of any major urban hub on the planet, in real time.
And it doesn’t stop with the planet. Bing has sewn in data from WorldWide Telescope to give an astronomically accurate, immersive representation of the sky from any point on earth. Users can browse through versions of the sky as it appears at different times of the year.
In fairness, it should be noted that the street-level view, where most of Bing’s wow power lies, is available in far fewer locations than the equivalent feature in Google Maps. That means that the race is on to see if Google can incorporate Bing’s superior functionality faster than Bing’s street cameras can penetrate the world.
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