Bing to take over MapQuest? It’s possible.

An article over on Screenwerk today seems to think that Microsoft may start powering the engine behind MapQuest, similar to how they power the search results for Yahoo.

It would make a lot of sense.  Tons of people still use MapQuest, but the technology is getting rather stale.  Putting Bing’s power behind all of those MapQuest eyeballs would be a win for both companies, and it would create a better experience for the end user.

Of course, this is all just speculation at this point, simply because it seems so logical.  Do you think it’ll happen? Should it happen?

Microsoft teams with Navteq to expand their Streetside coverage

When Microsoft launched Streetside a few days ago (a direct competitor to Google’s StreetView), I wondered how they could possibly catch up with the huge amount of coverage that Google already has in place.  Their answer: Navteq.

Navteq has vehicles on the road all the time, collecting road data (speed limits, bridge heights, etc).  Microsoft plans to “strap a few cameras on their vehicles to record some photos”.  It certainly seems like a great way to start playing catch-up.  I still imagine it’ll be quite a while until they have anywhere close to as much imagery as Google, but this gives them a solid plan to start gaining some ground.

They also revealed that they’ll be doing monthly releases of new Streetside imagery, similar to their monthly aerial/satellite releases.  Those releases tend to be rather impressive is their coverage, so we’ll see if their Streetside releases can match that.

Like most of these kinds of battles, the winner will be you.  Both companies will work hard to add better features and greater coverage, and we get to reap the benefits.  Kinda nice. :)

Microsoft Integrates Photosynth into Virtual Earth

photosynth-logoThis could be pretty cool.  Microsoft’s remarkable Photosynth software now is playing nicely with Virtual Earth.  From their press release:

Photosynth software analyzes digital photographs and generates a 3-D model by “stitching” the photos together. These models, or “synths,” can now be viewed using Silverlight technology across multiple platforms. Virtual Earth brings together features, functionality and content that help consumers, businesses, citizens and governments bring location to life. It helps businesses and governments share location-based information, build better connections with consumers or citizens, and helps organizations make better operational decisions. With the integration of Photosynth into Virtual Earth customers will be able to create detailed 3-D views of anything from places to products and from hotels to homes.

Greg Sterling has some good ideas on how companies could best use this, covering ideas such as real estate  and retail stores.

Microsoft releases massive imagery update for Virtual Earth

virtual-earth-jan09

Virtual Earth has been quiet lately, but Microsoft has just released a TON of new imagery for it.  No new features like Google Earth’s sweet update, and still no new 3D buildings, but the amount of imagery is quite impressive.

New Bird’s Eye imagery in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the UK and a ton of places in the US.  In addition, they’ve added a ton of High Res Othos and Satellite imagery in a wide variety of locations around the world.

Get all the details about this release here.

Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope finally has SpaceNavigator support

When WorldWide Telescope came out earlier this year, it blew a lot of people away — including me.  It’s a phenomenal program!

However, it didn’t support the excellent SpaceNavigator device, making it much more difficult to use.  I thought it was a bug at first, but it was simply not a supported device.

Today 3Dconnexion announced support for the software, and it works wonderfully.  I’ve spent a good deal of time just browsing around this evening, because the SpaceNavigator makes it so easy.  If you already have a SpaceNavigator, so download the latest version of WWTS and have some fun!

MapQuest is trying hard to hold on

Despite being far behind in features, MapQuest has been remarkably resilient in holding onto their market share.  Google Maps continues to catch up, but is still below half of the market share that MapQuest is holding.

However, MapQuest continues to try to catch back up.  Today they’ve released a new beta version of their site, and it’s certainly a step forward.  The biggest change is that they’ve put a map directly on the home page, rather than forcing you to search or get directions.  The map includes some useful layers (gas prices, traffic) and seems pretty solid.

Another nice change is the option of “copy and paste” address input.  Rather than having to put each element in a separate field (address, city, state, zip), you can drop them in a single box (just like you already could on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft).

Maybe we can chalk it up to being beta, but even the basic map usage still lags behind the others.  There are two basic functions that are missing:

  1. I can’t use the scroll wheel to zoom in and out.
  2. The zooms are hard breaks, rather than the smoother zoom used by Google and Microsoft.

As we’ve said before, it’s great to see them trying to catch back up.  Is it too little, too late?  Or will these kinds of steps be enough to hold onto their audience?  They promise many more upgrades in coming months, so we’ll see what happens.

Panoramio brings a new way to view photos

Well, new to them at least.  Panoramio has brought out a new feature to allow you to “Look Around” some landmarks using a very simple, intiuitive interface.  As Google Earth Blog points out, this feels very similar to Microsoft’s Photosynth.  In addition, as Google System points out, it’s not nearly as cool.

I’m a bit disappointed that this doesn’t yet work in Google Earth.  I was picturing something much more similar to Photosynth, where you could interact in a 3D world.  Still, it’s a very nice start and works very well.  The transitions between photos are very smooth and really help illustrate how the photos are related to one another.

Some places to check out, as suggested by the Panoramio blog:

Update: A little more info is now up on the Google LatLong blog.

Trees and Highway Overpasses

I’ve long felt that two things would need to happen to get to the next level in 3D imagery — trees and highway overpasses.

Since one of the neat features in Google Earth is the ability to fly a route, having proper overpasses would make things look much better.  The latest version of Virtual Earth has some cities modeled in “version 2.0″, which include a number of advances.  To the right is a bridge over a river.  While the bottom is still solid (you can’t see the river under the bridge) and the edges are rough, it’s really coming along nicely.  The tighter mesh of elevation data is getting us closer to where I’d like to see it.  I would think we’ll see some real progress in this area within the next year or so.

The bigger problem is the lack of trees.  Amazingly, Microsoft has begun to fix that already, too!  I really felt that was still well off in the future, but I’m glad I was wrong.  It only works in their “version 2.0″ cities (Las Vegas, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix), but it’s really neat.  As Google Earth Blog had speculated, the trees are generated automatically by Microsoft.  Hand-placing thousands of trees would be an impossible task to keep up with.

In addition, the trees don’t affect load time very much.  They only have to load a given tree type once, then tweak the height and diameter for each placement of it.  As such, I’ve found the trees load very quickly — usually before most of the buildings.

I’m a bit concerned about performance, though.  The tree models look excellent, and with thousands of them scattered around a city, I have to think that it’ll make things move a little slower.  I’m currently out of town on an old laptop, so everything is slow right now.  When I get home to my primary PC I’ll really start putting it through it’s paces.

Microsoft says that the updated data will roll out to the current set of 250 3D cities “soon” and I’m really looking forward to it.

Microsoft launches “ClearFlow” traffic on Live Maps

Microsoft has just released “ClearFlow” traffic data on Live Maps, but it’s far more interesting than you might think.  While it shows the colored traffic speeds in a similar manner as Yahoo, Google and Mapquest, it also goes much deeper.

From Search Engine Land:

In addition to real-time traffic data, the service offers traffic predictions across highways and improved information on secondary routes and surface streets. Horvitz said that this predictive modeling has proven to be very accurate in Microsoft’s ongoing development and refinement of the program. Based on artificial intelligence, as well as dynamic traffic monitoring, ClearFlow appears to be quite a bit more sophisticated that competing systems.

This could easily become the best traffic data on your PC.  Of course, therein lies the problem — it’s chained to my PC.  It’s very useful to get traffic data when I’m at my desk, but it’s brilliant to be able to get it while I’m on the road.

Here’s what needs happen next:

  • Microsoft releases a version of Live Maps Mobile, with similar features to Google Maps Mobile.
  • One of them steps up and includes turn-by-turn GPS into their mobile software.  GMM is so close to being the killer mobile app.  I can get turn-by-turn directions.  It can see/follow my GPS.  It just won’t tell me how far until my next turn!  I have very high hopes for the next version of GMM, but it’s been very quiet on that front lately.  A push from Microsoft would be a great thing for us consumers.

More details revealed about Microsoft’s World Wide Telescope

Robert Scoble has admitted that a demo of Microsoft’s World Wide Telescope a few weeks ago made him cry.

A snippet:

You drag around the sky. There’s Mars. There’s the big dipper. There’s Beetlejuice. Etc. It’s just like the star party you probably attended in college.

But it has one difference between any telescope you’ve ever looked at.

You can zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom.

We picked a point of light inside the big dipper. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Holy shit, it’s two galaxies colliding. It looked like a star. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom.

Now the magic happened.

Curtis Wong said: “let’s switch to a different telescope and see what these two galaxies colliding are spitting out.”

He clicked a button and we saw a completely different view of the same colliding galaxies. This time we weren’t looking at visible light, but at something else. I think it might have been infrared, or maybe a look at radiation being kicked out. He had about 10 of the world’s telescopes to look at. I forget all the names, but that detail is in the video coming on Monday.

Check out the full post for more information. He says a video is coming on Monday, so we’ll be sure to post that when we see it.