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bing maps

Microsoft’s search engine Bing announced today that users can test out a new version of its mapping service. The big idea, in Microsoft’s words, is to go beyond “how to get from point A to point B” and instead “connect [users’] virtual queries to the physical world.” Since I’m a pretty heavy Google Maps user, I wanted to give the new Bing Maps a try.

My conclusion: Bing is doing a lot of cool stuff, but I’m sticking with Google for now.

To be clear, I didn’t play with Bing enough to do a full review, and I know there are many features I’m not even touching on here. I’m just offering my first impressions based on some of my common activities in Google. So let’s take a typical query: I want to get from my apartment in San Francisco to a startup office in Palo Alto.

I entered the starting and stopping address in both maps, and immediately noticed a bunch of ways in which Bing is superior. First of all, it’s built using Microsoft’s Silverlight technology, so Bing Maps simply looks cooler and sleeker than Google. Second, it lets you plot the route based on either distance or time, and also based on current traffic conditions. Third, Bing makes a lot of extra information about my route and destination more accessible. I can click a button below my directions to see all the gas stations along the route. Or if I want to find a coffee shop where I can work after my meeting in Palo Alto, I can click a button to see nearby businesses, then choose the “coffee shops” option.

There’s a big deficiency though: I can’t use Bing to plot mass transit or walking directions. This may seem like a small thing to you, but  I look up bus directions on Google Maps far more often than I look up coffee shops. If I need a coffee shop I can always use Yelp or the iPhone app AroundMe. (Both products integrate Google Maps, incidentally.)

More broadly, getting directions is still the most popular location-based query in Bing, so I don’t think I’m alone in prioritizing the direction over the other bells and whistles. On that front, Bing Maps has a lot going for it, but without bus directions it’s still half-useless to me. And a half-useless search engine, stacked up against Google, is pretty much totally useless.

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