Microsoft's Bing team trotted out a new version of Bing Maps Dec. 2 that eschews AJAX for the company's Silverlight technology (users must download the plug-in, a la Adobe Flash). In short, Bing Maps' graphics are amazing compared with Google Maps.
As my colleague Nick Kolakowski pointed out, key among the new features are the Streetside and Photosynth imagery.
Streetside is Bing's answer to Google's Street View and its coverage is limited to 100 cities. Photosynth meanwhile is software from Microsoft Live Labs that takes a collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, and displays them in a three-dimensional model.
Access the Bing Maps beta here. In the meantime, let's compare Google Maps with the new Bing Maps. Splash page looks like this:
Note the options for automatic, road, aerial and bird's-eye view, which shows cities from the air, albeit at an angle.
Searching on Bing Maps was similar to Google Maps, including the ability to conduct multiple searches adding different content layers to the map at once, so I'm not going to spend time comparing the two in that vein:
Let's get to the visualization disparities. When I drag the yellow pegman in Street View in Google Maps and drop him, it brings me here:
Not bad. We're used to seeing this. But in Bing Maps, when you drop the blue pegman on a street from above, Streetside comesalive. Seriously, it zooms in like you're Neo or one of the agents from "The Matrix" freefalling from a building several stories high. Here I picture myself whizzing by the buildings in Dallas from 500 feet up:
When you get to the street view in Streetside, it looks very much like Google's Street View, and you can pan around north, south, east and west:
When you exit Streetside, you "fly" back up to the original overhead map view. I then clicked the Photosynth option on the left, which pulled up a swatch of Dallas buildings for me to view in 3D:
This is what it looks like when it levels out, and you can pivot between 3D images:
Wait a minute, I haven't shown how this compares to Google Maps. Of course not, because Google doesn't have anything like this, unless you count the Street View 3D marker, which doesn't really compare.
Of course, this is the Bing Maps beta, so you don't have transit or walking directions, and other things to make maps more functional:
And when it does, Google may have to look over its shoulder, because Bing Maps, with all of its graphics and 3D presentations, is becoming as entertaining as playing a video game.
Google Maps is useful and efficient. Bing Maps is stretching to be useful, efficient and fun. Now that's a winning value proposition by any measure.