Bing releases iPhone app with nice Maps implementation

Microsoft just released the “Bing” application for iPhone and it is a solid effort.  It was voice search that is similar to the Google app, and Maps implementation that is similar to Google Maps on the phone.

It’s a free app, so it’s certainly worth downloading and trying out.  Chris Pendleton has a nice writeup of it on the Bing Community blog, where he highlights some the new features on it.  Most of the features are similar to the pre-installed Google Maps, but the voice search in Bing Maps is a slick feature that Google Maps doesn’t have.  The rest of the features are almost identical to the Google Maps app.

So which should you use? It depends what you do with it.  In my case, I typically use it for real-time traffic.  I’ll occasionally do a search on it, but usually just want to see which which interstate I should avoid.  Below is a side-by-side look at the two apps showing real-time traffic around Atlanta.  Google Maps is on the left, Bing on the right:

iphone-maps

It’s not even close!  Bing has all kinds of shading and blurring, which looks very nice, but makes it a pain to see what the colors are.  Is that a yellow, or the road color?  Is that orange in there?  It’s quite a mess.

Google’s may look more childish, but it’s far easier to see.  If I want a quick look at the traffic, I’ve got it.

The Bing app is pretty great, and overall I’m very impressed with it.  However, I’ll keep using Google Maps (for now), simply because it does a better job for what I need.

Improved traffic info on Google Maps: See the side streets and contribute

Google has just announced that arterial traffic is now available on Google Maps.  I’ve noticed more and more roads showing traffic data over the past few months, but today seems to be the day of the big announcement.  In fact, there are certainly more roads in my area with traffic data, which could be very useful.

Arterial traffic on Google Maps

In addition, Google is now looking to use crowdsourcing to keep the maps even more up to date.  By using Google Maps for Mobile on your device, you can choose to have it send anonymous speed data back to Google’s servers to help them update the current traffic levels in your area.  This works on virtually any mobile phone that can run Maps for Mobile with a GPS, but sadly won’t work on the iPhone.

Google Maps Mobile - Arterial Traffic

A big question people will have about this new feature is privacy.  Google tackles that on their blog by saying:

We understand that many people would be concerned about telling the world how fast their car was moving if they also had to tell the world where they were going, so we built privacy protections in from the start. We only use anonymous speed and location information to calculate traffic conditions, and only do so when you have chosen to enable location services on your phone. We use our scale to provide further privacy protection: When a lot of people are reporting data from the same area, we combine their data together to make it hard to tell one phone from another. Even though the vehicle carrying a phone is anonymous, we don’t want anybody to be able to find out where that anonymous vehicle came from or where it went — so we find the start and end points of every trip and permanently delete that data so that even Google ceases to have access to it. We take the privacy concerns related to user location data seriously, and have worked hard to protect the privacy of users who share this data — but we still understand that not everybody will want to participate. If you’d like to stop your phone from sending anonymous location data back to Google, you can find opt-out instructions here.

It looks to be some great features.  I’m hoping they get the crowdsourcing aspects of it over to the iPhone, though given the recent fighting between Apple and Google lately, that seems unlikely to happen.

Google Maps can predict traffic conditions

As reported by the Google Operating System blog, Google Maps now includes traffic predictions.

Simply pick a day of the week and a time, and Google will color the map to show typical traffic conditions on that day/time.  There are a few oddities I found in it, but it’s a neat idea.  For example, here it Atlanta at 5am on Sunday:

What’s up with the heavy traffic on 400?  While there might always be an accident somewhere in town, the predicted traffic for that time of day should be all green.

All in all, it’s a neat idea.  Here are a few pictures that walk through a Monday morning rush hour (5am-8am):

It shows conditions slowly getting worse, which is exactly how things go at that time of day.

My main concern lately with Google Maps traffic is the sporadic coverage.  One day they’ll have almost everything covered, and the next day there will be gray sections everywhere.  I’m not sure where they get their data from (and it may not be their fault), but the lack of consistency makes the service far less useful.

That being said, after e-mail and web browsing, Google Maps traffic is the killer app on my cellphone.  I use it a lot.  This new feature isn’t on the mobile version yet, but I don’t care if it makes it there or not.  When I’m checking from my phone, all I need are live conditions.  If I want to look at predicted traffic for another day, I can do that from my PC.

MapQuest keeps trying, but still can’t get it quite right

I’ve been quick to give MapQuest credit for effort, as they’re really trying to catch up the big boys now that their lead is quickly shrinking.

Yesterday they introduced live traffic. It looks very similar to the traffic info on Google Maps, but with more detailed information. The screenshots look pretty nice:

MapQuest Traffic: MiamiMapQuest Traffic: Miami

Here’s the problem — it didn’t work right away. I refreshed and reloaded and zoomed around for a while before I could make the “Traffic” checkbox appear. I later found another page on their site that gives more information about this feature. I thought I might find the answer there, but instead I found this:

Traffic List to Come

Fortunately, they mark the traffic-enabled cities with a traffic light, in a virtually identical manner as Google. A quick glance seems to show that they have more cities than Google, but not by a wide margin.

The real test, of course, is who gives better data? Here is a side-by-side shot of Atlanta using Google Maps and MapQuest:

Google Maps vs. MapQuest for Atlanta traffic

Assuming their data is accurate, the clear winner appears to be MapQuest. Google has much of the highway in gray (“no data”), while MapQuest is showing data for everything. In addition, MapQuest has the clickable icons so you know exactly what the problem is.

For me, however, 95% of my Google Maps traffic usage is from my cell phone while I’m on the road — Google Maps Mobile is very useful. As far as I know, MapQuest has nothing to compare to that. With that in mind, Google Maps will still be the winner by default for when I’m on the road, but I might give MapQuest a try next time I check traffic info from the house.

Edit 10:08pm, 3/18/08 – MapQuest does have a mobile product to compare to Google Maps Mobile, and it’s called MapQuest Navigator.  It appears to be a little better than GMM, but it costs $50/year and works on a rather small selection of phones.

Don’t forget about Google Maps Mobile for traffic info

GMM TrafficWith so many people traveling over the next 10 days, I thought it would be worth reminding you about the excellent Google Maps Mobile.

The searching and directions are neat, but the live traffic is the real killer feature in this product. It saved us a good deal of time yesterday (don’t go down 75 — take 285 around) , and will likely be a big help again tomorrow.

Their latest update also included “My Location”, which is a simulated GPS using cell tower information. My phone has GPS (N95 FTW), but this is a useful feature on my wife’s BlackJack.

Bottom line: If you have a compatible phone, GMM is a must have during the holidays.

More updates to Virtual Earth

Microsoft has just released a new version of Live Search Maps (named Gemini), as well as revealed a few more places that were updated in the past few days.

The new version has a lot of cool stuff:

  • 1-Click Directions – Also known as “party maps”, this is a single permalink that you can send out, and each person can get directions to it from their house with a single click.
  • Route Around Traffic – It’s a check box option to have it automatically route around traffic jams, based on the live traffic data.
  • Data Import – Import GeoRSS, GPX and even some KML.
  • Birds Eye View in 3D – A way to view Birds Eye imagery while in 3D mode.  It’s kinda weird, but very cool.
  • 3D Tours and Videos of Collections – You can build a “tour” (fly around, look at stuff, etc), then share it with others by sending them a simple URL.  They can control the tour using DVD-style controls.
  • 3D Modelling – Using Dassault, you can create 3D buildings in VE.
  • Collection Search and Explore – A search engine for more content.
  • Enhanced Detail Pages – More info about each business listed in VE

You really need to read their full post to get details about all of those enhancements.

Also, there was more to their latest imagery update than we posted a few days ago.  In addition to all of that Birds Eye data, the following was also added:

Birds Eye Imagery

  • Madrid, Spain
  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Dopenhagen, Denmark

Ortho Imagery

  • Imperial County, CA
  • Fresno, CA
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • North Kentucky
  • Kern County, CA
  • Louisville, KY
  • Merced, CA
  • Blythe, CA
  • Lexington, KY
  • Willow Springs, AZ
  • Wilmington, NC
  • Placer County, CA
  • St. George, UT
  • Ft. Pierce/Stuart, FL
  • Northeast Ohio
  • Pensacola, FL
  • Catalina Island, CA
  • Ft. Myers, FL
  • Panama/Tallahassee, FL
  • Florida Keys, FL
  • Gainesville/Ocala, FL
  • US 19, WV

Satellite Imagery

  • Banff, Canada
  • Everglades, FL, United States
  • Freeport, Bahamas
  • Grand Teton/Yellowstone, CA, United States
  • Pusan, South Korea
  • Malta
  • Marsh Harbor, Bahamas
  • North Bimini, Bahamas
  • Whistler, Canada
  • Helsinki, Finland

All in all, it amounts to an astounding amount of new stuff for VE.  Very impressive!

Real-time traffic now in Google Earth

Google Earth Real-time trafficAs reported on the Google Latlong blog, Google Earth now has a new “traffic” layer which uses the same real-time traffic data that is used in Google Maps.

It’s not especially fancy, but that’s probably a good thing.  Sometimes simple is better.  The traffic is shown as a series of dots along the highway.  Green=fast, yellow=ok, red=slow.  The dots are clickable and provide you with the current speed read from that radar.

If I still had a highway commute, I could see myself checking this as I stepped out the door each morning.  Nice work, Google!

Google Maps now gives estimated rush hour drive times

This is pretty slick — Google Maps will now give you multiple estimated times for trips that you plan (in “a limited set of metropolitan areas”).

Their example has someone traveling from Berkeley to Half Moon Bay, which is “about 59 minutes”.  However, the directions also say that it could take “up to 1 hour 50 minutes in traffic”.   This allows you to look at multiple routes to determine which would be best if you had to travel during rush hour.

Obviously, this can’t account for accidents that might slow things down further, but it’s a neat addition.   Combine this with the new click-and-drag directions, and you can quickly find the best route during heavy traffic times.

The Google LatLong blog has a full write-up with some nice screenshots.