Bing Maps recently has introduced some new functionality within their Bing Maps application. There is now an enhanced and more minimalistic user interface, new functionality and improved performance. The update was done more than 3 months ago but there was not much echo about it.
Why is Bing Maps not present?
Bing Maps includes really nice functionality and they catch up with some innovations known from Google Maps. In example Bing Maps now supports much smoother drag and drop routing. But there is still no real innovation in the field of routing. More or less they copied or adapted well known features from Google Maps. Therefore it’s not worth talking about. This is true for many other functionalities like map navigation, searching, etc.
The most distinguishing factor to Google Maps is their introduction of “Bird Eyes View”, a 45 degree perspective view of the reality using aerial photography. The major problem with this layer is the poor coverage which has something to do with high costs using this special camera all over the world. Even though there is a high potential in metropolitan areas, since Microsoft is working for a while now on automated mechanisms to create 3D city models derived from these kind of imagery.
Now what can Microsoft do leave the shadow of Google Maps?
In my opinion for Microsoft it should not be the Goal to cover same functionality as Google Maps and therefore serve the same user group. They should be focusing on own innovations to distinguish their Bing application from Google Maps. They will never reach attention only by offering the same features like Google Maps a few weeks later. Microsoft has to find their own user group which can be somewhere between the ordinary masses (Google Maps) and GIS experts (ESRI).
What is ESRI doing better than Microsoft?
ESRI is also heavily focusing on providing map application for the web. But in comparison to Google Maps they are coming from a completely other area and user group (namely GIS Professionals). They are trying to give their users the possibility to create expert systems using a wide variety of web technologies and geoprocessing tools. In the last few years ESRI tried to open up their tools for the Web using REST interfaces. Of course the user group is much smaller than for Google Maps, but they are accepted by this kind of user.
What can Microsoft do to persist as considerable player in the Geo Industry?
In my Opinion Microsoft should find their users in between of Google and ESRI. I think they are doing a good job in modeling the World in 3D. They have some smart patents and technology for automatic generation of 3D city models for the web. Maybe they should be focusing on this area and serve their own user group, realated or working in this area. One ongoing discussing is the presentation of such complex data, so that it can be consumed in an open way and without barriers. I’m not sure with Microsoft proprietary technologies like Silverlight would be perfectly suitable for doing so. We will see which impact HTML 5 and other web standards will have in this area.