In April of this year Microsoft announced that its visual mapping feature, Streetside, was making its way to Europe. The BBC reported at the time that cars mounted with the now familiar 360 degree cameras were driving around London collecting images. The fruit of that effort has now begun to appear.
Microsoft previously said that it isn’t going to try and map every street in every European capital. Rather it would concentrate on urban and more heavily trafficked areas — a kind of 80/20 bet. In following Google into Europe Microsoft also benefits from the former’s earlier missteps, negotiations and litigation in various European countries, paving the way (semi-literally and figuratively) for street-level imagery.
Bing Maps has decided to “bifurcate” its approach unfortunately. The richest Bing Maps experience requires the installation of Flash alternative Silverlight. That allows the 360-experience that users have become accustomed to with Google Maps. However in the absence of Silverlight users will see a kind of panorama of the street in question. (This approach has been in place for several months.)
While the panorama is visually interesting (and requires sophisticated technology on the back end) it’s not as useful or compelling as the richer Silverlight experience. Below, compare Bing Maps images of Westminster Abbey in London. The first offers the panorama from “Bing Maps Classic;” the second shows what’s possible with the Sliverlight version:
I’ve generally been a big fan of Bing Maps and its many innovations. In this instance, however, I don’t think that the “classic,” panoramic presentation delivers a great user experience. In the “classic” view Microsoft is making an effort to be consistent between mobile and PC user experiences.
Yet the presentation of the “seamless” panoramic imagery is not as helpful as the Silverlight version. By contrast, Google Maps doesn’t require a similar plug-in to deliver the more immersive experience:
I won’t get into the “politics of Sliverlight” and the battle with HTML5 but my advice would be to make the standard or “classic” experience on the PC richer without requiring the heavy software.
If I’m looking to get a sense of the neighborhood surrounding a potential hotel choice, for example, the panoramic view above doesn’t really give me enough visual information as a practical matter. In addition, I don’t think the panoramic imagery (by itself) will win any converts from Google Maps.