SAN FRANCISCO–Microsoft’s Bing took a major step forward Wednesday in adding rich mapping and image data to its search engine, but until it assembles more data, pretty pictures aren’t enough to beat the Google Maps juggernaut.
Bing Maps Beta was released during a presentation at Microsoft’s offices here. It’s a Silverlight-based application that runs inside Bing Maps and adds Microsoft’s version of Google Street View–called Streetside–to Bing Maps, as well as enhanced “bird’s eye” images that let you swoop over cities.
I spent some quality time Wednesday afternoon with the new Bing Maps Beta, zooming through the streets of San Francisco and New York and testing out various searches. The best part about Bing Maps Beta–by far–are the rich transitions between high-resolution street-level or bird’s-eye view photos as you move around a city, making it feel like you’re actually driving down the road.
Unfortunately, that’s also the worst part; you’ll have to download Microsoft Silverlight to make the rich imagery come alive (although you can still use Bing Maps without it), and 10 minutes of poking around with the application put a noticeable drain on system resources. If I left the window open, but didn’t do anything in Bing Maps, my activity monitor dropped back to a moderate pace, only to max out again once I started playing with the Streetside feature or scrolling around a map.
But what Microsoft has assembled is impressive. The images are high-quality, and the location fixes are quite precise. The bird’s-eye views have been improved with more perspective on roads hidden by buildings and name prominent buildings right on the map.
Scrolling around a city in bird’s-eye view also allows you to view geotagged picture galleries created with Microsoft Photosynth. Click the little blue Streetside man (Google’s little Street View man is orange) to choose between Streetside or Photosynth views, and if you click on a green icon in a given location, you are presented with photo galleries shot of the location. You can check out exhibits in museums such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, zooming into the building from the bird’s-eye view.