Bing Maps, Where Does It Go From Here?
Microsoft has kept its Bing Maps program moving forward. At the recent Search Engine Marketing Expo West (SMX) in Santa Clara, Steve Ballmer in his keynote indicated that his favorite part of Bing was….Bing Maps!
Previous to the conference, Bing Maps announced one of its largest imagery updates ever, posting over 8 million square kilometers of new imagery over the last two months.
Imagery seems to be a focus of Microsoft. I mentioned in a previous blog that Microsoft was talking up the possibility of capturing a new comprehensive imagery database of the United States at a resolution of 1 foot. It is my understanding that the two-year program will involve the creation of an imagery database for Bing Maps (who knows what other uses are planned) and start this month. Coverage will include Western Europe and North America (USA & Southern Canada). Microsoft appears to be building a Bing Base that could become the reference platform for on-line geo-solutions. Seems as if MSOFT may be thinking about the GIS Market (especially since Microsoft SQL is now geo-capable).
As many of you know, Microsoft and NAVTEQ signed a deal in December
in which Microsoft hopes to benefit from using “…street level visuals powered by NAVTEQ.” NAVTEQ in turn revealed what it had in mind at CES, where they announced that their new Advanced Mapping Collection Technology included a combined system of panoramic and high-resolution cameras to support the production of street level imagery that would provide an “immersive” picture of a location (as well as GPS and IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) positioning.
Of course, Microsoft had already tipped their hat here with the technology preview they posted on the web. Take a look.
Last week Navizonannounced that it had been selected by Microsoft to provide it access to Navizon’s global (really?) crowd sourced database related to software-only hybrid wireless positioning. In other words, Navizon collects information from cellular towers and Wi-Fi access points to triangulate locations based on signal strength in a manner similar to that used by SkyHook Wireless. It appears that NAVTEQ’s new dilithium-crystal-powered vans do not include quite as comprehensive a suite to sensors as do the Google vans, (although some aspects of the NAVTEQ vans might give Google some competitive problems).
Where all of this comes together is in a presentation made by the Chief Architect of Bing Maps Blaise Aguera y Arcas at the TED conference held last month. I will embed the video below, but in case it does not work you can find it here.
By adding Photosynth integration to their Streetside imagery and geotagged images from Flickr (Google is doing the same type of fusion with Street View and Panaramio) Bing is integrating crowd-sourced imagery that could allow many types of exploration, including a “time travel” like system. For instance, in the future, say 2020, one could possibly request to see photos merged into Streetside that were from 2009 to see what changes had occurred along block faces during this period. In addition, since Bing has indicated that it will provide imagery that will allow you to leave the street and enter buildings, they are setting the stage for virtual worlds. I guess all of this focus on virtual worlds is good, especially since Bing and Google cannot get their map data for the real world straightened out. Of course, it won’t matter, since we won’t need to leave home to go anywhere in our virtual worlds.
It appears to me that Microsoft wants to be considered a major player in the world of mapping. However, there are three things missing from their approach. First, they are reliant on NAVTEQ for map data. Second, they currently do not have a program to advantage their mapping efforts through the use of User Generated Content. Third, they do not have a difference-making presence in the mobile world.
It is possible, however, that Microsoft may be styling itself as a “cartography” shop, rather than a navigable database shop. For example, Microsoft’s presentation of NAVTEQ data, though flawed, is better than any other use of the data including those by NAVTEQ and the OVI Maps website of its owner Nokia. Someone at Microsoft understands the “Nature of Maps”, as the company’s maps are well designed and the human factors aspects involved in the use of Bing Maps are far superior to the interface available for use in Google Maps or any other online website.
Let’s think more about the potential future for Bing Maps, next time.