This article was published on July 13, 2011

Bing Maps releases impressive usability upgrade

Bing Maps releases impressive usability upgrade
Alex Wilhelm
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Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

As any Windows Phone user can tell you, of all the Bing products Bing Maps is easily the best.

While Bing’s web results are still not as good as Google’s, though they are quite capable and usable on a day-to-day basis, Bing Maps is now nearly neck and neck with Google Maps in terms of usability and information quality.

Microsoft has released a lengthy PDF that explains the latest changes to Bing Maps that have just been shipped, which we have taken the time to read and digest for you.

What makes Bing Maps so worthy of praise? A simple word: readability, especially in a mobile environment. While Google Maps, on an iPhone for example, is a very feature rich experience, it can become somewhat ‘busy’ in different zoom layers, making it difficult to navigate. Bing Maps on the other hand is a touch more sparse in its layout, making its use somewhat simpler.

Today Bing Maps has rolled out a host of small, minor changes that will enhance the usability of Bing maps by making their interface sharper. In Bing’s words, they have “made things easier to see.”

For example, the following screenshot shows two views of a street grid, the left image being of the old Bing maps, and the other being the new:

The new edition of Bing has a number of changes: road encasement, sharper direction arrows, better color differentiation, and so forth. No single feature would be a noticeable change, but in aggregate they form a much more readable map. The new Bing Maps also includes newly colored water, better building and background distinction, and better typography.

If these changes are minor, why are we covering them? Because they highlight how hard Microsoft is trying with Bing, that the company simply demands that its products to combat Google be world-class. It’s a look into the Redmond mindset, that Google must be beaten at its own game.

I went and tested the new Bing Maps against Google’s offerings, and found in a close test of similar locations on both services that Google still has an edge in mapping, but that the competition was surprisingly close. Yes, Google is still better, but Bing is close enough that I’m not sure that the average consumer would notice.

If search interests you, I recommend the you read the Bing outline of how they came to the changes. For now, check out the new Bing Maps, and compare it to Google. What do you think? Sound off in the comments.