Microsoft’s search engine Bing has taken the next step in an “arms race” with its rival Google by rolling out a slick new maps feature.
It is an upgrade of Bing’s previous map tool, and allows people to seamlessly zoom around a location while admiring it in a 3D effect bird’s eye view – and in some places from street level.
Users can then choose to layer information on top of their map, adding things like the latest traffic or weather reports, directions, local businesses and attractions or even examples of urban graffiti.
Recent tweets and blog entries posted by people in the selected area can also be pinpointed on the detailed maps.
Describing the new service, Bing’s director Stefan Weitz said the developers had tried to think about why people were using maps online.
“It’s measuring success in the real world — not just asking the user ‘Did you find the link you were looking for?’ but rather ‘Did you accomplish what you were trying to do?’,” he said.
The Bing Maps upgrade, which requires users to download Microsoft’s free Silverlight plug-in, was described as an “interesting move” by Patrick Goss, editor of the TechRadar website.
“This is almost an arms race between Bing and Google to integrate tools for local information,” he told Sky News Online.
“Bing’s maps are excellent and it’s a really nice addition offering things such as local blogs.
“You have to bear in mind, though, that Google has an ‘anything you can do, I can do better” mentality, and I’d expect them to roll out something similar very soon.
“Maps are important to both Google and to Microsoft, and I think it’s an interesting move from Microsoft, with Bing really fighting back.”
By offering tools that provide locally useful information, Bing may also be hoping to drive new users towards its main search engine.
Some 65% of US web searches are currently made using Google and just 9% using Bing – but the latter has steadily gained followers since its launch in June this year.
“Bing Maps is a slick addition to the ongoing portfolio for the “Bing Experience”, but should merely be the start of a series of additional roll-outs coming from Bing over the next six months,” said ZenithOptimedia search executive Ryan Fitzgibbon.
“So far, a lot of the product development in the UK has been focused around making the main search results unique to the UK audience.
“However, there are a number of additional features within the US version of Bing that are being tested,” he told Sky News Online.
“I believe that once these additional products are hard-coded into the results pages of Bing then Microsoft will finally have a product that could convert many of the Google users.”
However, on the same day as Bing revealed its map upgrade, Google swung back into action by announcing it had teamed up with UNESCO to put images of World Heritage sites into Street View.
Kew Gardens, Stonehenge, the Palace of Versailles and Pompei are among sites than can now be explored via 3D imagery.
Content courtesy of Sky News