Microsoft has launched a preview release of Bing Maps for the web, which it claims will focus more on travel planning rather than route mapping. As of now the feature is opt-in and users can choose to go back to the older version of Bing if they wish to do so.
The new Bing maps have been completely redesigned and now pretty much resemble Google maps. Taking the comparison further, on searching for a location, both map services display an information box while zooming in on the location. The information boxes on both display quick facts, options for directions and options to search nearby. However Bing does this much better, displaying info from Wikipedia, Yelp reviews, TripAdvisor etc., points of interests with pictures and options to search for nearby hotels, airports, attractions, dining places, campgrounds and colleges in one click.
Interestingly, clicking one of these options open a new ‘box’ under the information box, minimizing the information box and displaying relevant infor like nearby hotels or colleges. As such, users can go through a variety of information, while easily being able to switch back and forth. For example, the map overlays hotels, airports and dining places in Delhi on the same map, while highlighting those points relevant to the ‘box’ the user is in. This lets a user look for a hotel which is near an airport and for dining place close by at the same time on the same map, making travel planning easier.
Users can also print the map with custom highlights and routes, or share their plan via a URL. Other than this the map has an option to display traffic information and the ability to let users save ‘places’. However, the latter feature requires users to sign in using a Microsoft account.
Out take: Microsoft has made some neat improvements to its map that makes it more intuitive to use compared to Google’s offering. Google’s maps on desktop still focus on navigation and finding directions, a function most users now assign to their smartphones. Instead Microsoft’s approach to maps focuses on planning trips, which makes more sense for desktops. However, Microsoft seriously lacks content, at least in India. A search for hotels on Bing for Delhi revealed only a dozen or so hotels, while Google maps displayed hundreds of hotels on the map. Given this, even with Microsoft having a better interface, we don’t see users switching over in a hurry, at least not until Microsoft can ramp up its database.
Sale to Uber: Microsoft recently sold a part of its Bing mapping tech to Uber. Following this deal, nearly 100 of the company’s employees were expected to join uber. Microsoft said then that it would stop collecting map data and instead depend on data licensed from partners like Nokia to continue offering its Bing Maps service. The company would instead focus on the user experience of Bing Maps.