Update: Added inputs on Paid Search, on request from Microsoft

Microsoft India has released the latest version of its mapping service powered by its Virtual Earth platform. Gurpreet S. Pall, General Manager of Microsoft’s India development centre in Hyderabad, told Business Line that Live Search Maps has seen about 600,000 visitors a month since its launch in November 2008.

Live Search Maps version 2.0, according to the release, offers maps for 17 cities and highways in 16 states, covering 48,000 towns. Nasik, Indore, Sholapur, Surat, Nagpur, Pimpri, Chandigarh, Panaji and Marmagao have been added to Live Search. Though announced at the launch in Hyderabad, Mohali and Panchkula are not yet online.

Features

There has been much improvement in the way directions are given, combining landmarks such as hotels, banks, ATMs and petrol pumps with roads and even a ‘if you reached here, you’ve gone too far’ input to help avoid overshooting. Users can also explore businesses in the city, read reviews, view MSN search results and, most importantly, find contact information. For example, a search of real estate brokers in Bangalore generated 250 listings, with their addresses, landline numbers as well as email addresses. Microsoft licenses this data from its partners Infomedia and Indiacom. The mapping service, powered by Nokia owned Navteq, can also be used on mobiles at http://m.live.co.in.

A small feature that would offer the right spelling of cities and towns could be added to ensure users do not get stymied while searching. Will it get a traffic indicator like its global map service?

Monetization Via API; No Location Based Services?

On being asked if there were plans to introduce location based services, Gupreet told MediaNama, “We provide location based services using the Virtual Earth platform in other markets, such as the US. We have the platform capabilities but do not yet have a plan to enable location based services in India because there aren’t enough GPS enabled phones/ mobile devices.” Readers should note that Google Latitude, which launched recently, allows location based social networking.

Live Search Maps is a paid search – free for users but businesses and corporates are charged for displaying their websites on it, similar to the sponsored search results we see on Google’s search engine. Another monetization model adopted by Microsoft is a fee for its Live Search Maps and Virtual Earth API which can be used by enterprises who want to develop location based services. The Hyderabad Police have already built a ‘Know Your Police Station’ tab that helps citizens locate stations using Microsoft’s API. They plan to offer information and updates on emergency services, traffic alerts SMS service soon. It is time maps started making money. While Microsoft has taken the lead in launching a monetization model around their API, a free Google Maps API would significantly impact Microsofts plans.

Microsoft does not have any advertisements on its maps. In comparison, Google does have a map advertising tool ready but has not yet launched it. Yahoo India’s maps, powered by MapMyIndia, can be read in the vernacular. Meanwhile, Reliance’s BIG Maps is also in the works.

Related:

On Google Latitude Vs BIG Maps
Microsoft Launches Navteq Powered Maps For India; For How Long?