Windows Live Local debuts – get ready for cool bird’s eye views
By Charlene Li
I just got out of a briefing with Erik Jorgensen, GM of Microsoft’s new Search & Mapping group. MSFT announced that it will launch Windows Live Local at local.live.com tomorrow (slated to go live at 9am PST). I’ve included a few screenshots to MSFT provided, but you’ll be able to try it out soon enough.
A key and much anticipated feature will be the bird’s eye view, which is in addition to satellite (which MSFT calls Aerial) views and regular road maps. The screenshots I’ve included are for the Coit Tower in San Francisco – you can see that there’s a great deal more detail in the bird’s eye view. (Note: this feature will be available to only about 25% of the US population).
Why is that bird’s eye view important? Here’s one example – I recently had to find an apartment building in a large complex – the street address only took me to the corner of the complex. Satellite maps from Google didn’t provide enough resolution, and also showed me the tops of very similar-looking buidings.
I ended up driving around the 40+ apartment buildings looking for one specific place – with an irate kid in the back seat. The person I was visiting could have browsed to the bird’s eye view of her apartment, label it with a “pushpin” on the service, and then send it to me as a link via email.
There are a few other improvements over Virtual Earth (virtualearth.com will redirect to local.live.com). A key one is full integration of directions into the service. Right click on any location – even without typing in the address – and you’ll get direction to/from that place. Another interesting feature that’s not in the official press release is the ability to share mapping within MSN Messenger. When you invite someone into the service, you can both interact within the map and local search. Trying to find a good place for lunch? Do a search for “sushi”, agree on a place, and then use the bird’s eye view to agree on a specific meeting place.
How does this service compare to the Google and Yahoo! mapping and local services? Google has road and satellite imagery and Yahoo! has only road maps. Yahoo! has more user-generated content that aids decision making while Google has more robust Web spidering – Windows Live Local is still behind in those areas. But for certain circumstances, I can foresee myself switching over to this new service to utilize the bird’s eye view – it’s much more than nice-to-have eye candy. The question will be if people will stay and switch their mapping and local preferences over to Microsoft…I suspect that this new offering is a definite step in that direction.
Update: I pulled the press release as I didn't realize that it hadn't crossed the wire. When it does, I'll post it again.
Update: Here's the press release.
New Windows Live Local Service Delivers State-of-the-Art Advances for
Web-Based Mapping and Local Search
Service offers unique bird’s-eye exploration of U.S. cities with
REDMOND, Wash. — Dec. 8, 2005 — Microsoft Corp. today introduced a beta
version of Windows Live™ Local, an online local search and mapping service
that combines unique bird’s-eye imagery with advanced driving directions,
Yellow Pages and other local search tools. Powered by Virtual Earth™ mapping
and location platform, these features give users useful new ways to map and
find directions to various locations and better visualize their surroundings
from multiple aerial vantage points.
“We believe Windows Live Local sets a new standard for what people can do
with maps, directions and local search,” said Christopher Payne, corporate
vice president of MSN Search at Microsoft. “The combination of immersive
aerial imagery, customizable map annotations, innovative driving directions
and the ability to share local search information with others gives users an
incredibly powerful and easy way to find what they want and get where they
want to go.”
The new service, located at http://local.live.com, contains a range of new
capabilities that will be exciting to search and mapping users. The most
visible of these features is a new 45-degree bird’s-eye view of major U.S.
cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Las
Vegas. Covering about a quarter of the U.S., these bird’s-eye images are
captured by Pictometry International Corp. via low-flying airplanes and then
integrated with road and satellite maps to simulate 360-degree panoramas
that can be viewed from four compass directions. On-screen navigational
tools and preview tiles enable navigation between directional views or
zooming in closer to a destination. Now people will be able to experience
what it’s like to be there, whether they are evaluating a new house to buy,
choosing the exact location to meet someone, or just taking a virtual
vacation. Over the next couple of years, Microsoft plans to continuously
update bird’s-eye, aerial, and road map data and imagery as well as local
listings and information.
Taking the Guesswork Out of Getting There
The new Windows Live Local service also gives users some great new ways to
identify where they want to go and map the best route to get there. First,
users will be able to point to anyplace on the map that interests them and
immediately calculate directions to it. Now, even if the user doesn’t know
the address or name of a place — such as a park, shopping mall, parking
garage or other spot that is hard to identify by address or name — he or she
can simply point, click and get directions to that location. In addition,
the new service provides a range of new driving direction capabilities,
including step-by-step directions using bird’s-eye or satellite views,
identification of construction areas along a specific route, and several
innovative print options such as print-only directions, the addition of
notes to printed directions, and thumbnail pictures of each turn in the
route. An updated version of Location Finder is also available in Windows
Live Local to help people using a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, Tablet PC or desktop
PC to easily position their current location as a starting point to their
search experience. The degree of accuracy is often within a few hundred feet
of a user’s actual location.
Additional Ways to Share; More Bird’s-Eye Views Planned
Today’s launch also offers users the ability to customize their maps by
adding their own user-created Pushpins, which can be annotated with useful
information about a location such as which corner of an intersection to
meet, the baseball field and time “Johnny’s” game will start, or the camping
site selected for the annual summer trip. Pushpins can be used to create
itineraries for a set of activities and in all cases can be easily shared
with others through e-mail, Web logs, MSN® Spaces or instant messages sent
with MSN Messenger.
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in
software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize
their full potential.