Microsoft has been busily ramping up the features on its search engine Bing, with the showstopper being the release of Bing Maps Beta, a substantial upgrade to its online map application.
The Bing Maps beta site is now powered by a Silverlight interface, and comes with its own take on Google’s Street View called Street Side, which serves up street-level views of specific locations.
Much like the Google version, you can scroll and pan around street scenes, but Microsoft’s implementation is far slicker, with a hugely impressive 3D animation taking you between viewpoints – it almost feels like you’re ‘driving’ along the road!
The photos also seem crisper than their Google counterparts too, with a higher resolution.
Unfortunately, very few areas are currently covered by the Street Side cameras (none we could find in the UK), although we spent an enjoyable ten minutes zooming around the Lower East Side of New York.
The new Applications Gallery shows a lot of promise too. It’s a series of map overlays that displays information, including nearby businesses, local traffic conditions, and even realtime Twitter updates using Twitter’s geolocation API.
Microsoft plans to open the Gallery up to developers, who can add their own apps.
The Photosynth feature is rocking our boat too. This is a clever photo-management tool that stitches together digital images to create what Microsoft calls “synths”.
These are 3-D renderings created by multiple photos of the same scene which users can rotate, zoom and view from many angles. Again, with the thing being in beta, there’s precious few views currently available, but we had fun taking a look around some tourist landmarks (and some sites in London too).
After sending some time playing around with Microsoft’s new suite of beta tools, we have to declare ourselves rather impressed – and it can only be healthy for punters to see Google feeling some competition.
Shaky presentation explaining how the Bing maps work