Don’t laugh! Microsoft has Google beat on maps, but you would never know it

Want to hear a joke?


This zinger sums up the current state of the search engine wars – if you can even call them that anymore – with Google crushing the competition, and Bing relegated to the roll of punch line. Problem is, the prevailing “Bing sucks” assumption is not entirely fair – and, more importantly, it might be keeping you away from a surprisingly superior product: Bing Maps.

That’s not a joke – Bing Maps is awesome. In fact, over the past few months, I have all but entirely switched from using Google Maps to Bing Maps on the Web. And, dare I say, you should too. Here’s why.

Bing Maps 2, Google 0

My migration from Google Maps devotee to Bing Maps evangelist began after the former service repeatedly pinpointed the wrong location of restaurants and bars in my area. The addresses were always just slightly off. And, in once instance, the directions Google provided would have led me 30 minutes out of the way, because Google Maps didn’t recognize the existence of a particular bridge.

Bing Maps’ trump card over Google Maps is its “bird’s eye” satellite imagery feature.

Frustrated with Google, I began comparing Google and Bing’s maps to each other, just to make sure I had the best possible route. (Yes, I’m a dork like that.) Much to my surprise, I quickly realized that Bing always put me on the right path from the start. Score one for Bing.

Accurate address location and directions are not the only area where Bing has the upper hand, however. Bing Maps’ trump card over Google Maps is its “bird’s eye” satellite imagery feature. Compared to Google, Bing offers higher resolution areal images and lets users get a satisfying 360-degree look at a place. In other words, when you shift viewing angles with Bing, the service displays an entirely different, highly detailed photo – not true with Google Maps.

Google offers 360 views as well, but the “satellite” view option only delivers a flat image that doesn’t change when you shift the viewing angle; it’s like spinning a photograph around on a table. Google Earth view, meanwhile, does allow you to view locations from multiple angles, and adds in the element of 3D buildings. Unfortunately, 3D view looks as pixelated as a video game from 2005, and it is only available for urban locations. Bing’s “bird’s eye,” on the other hand, is available for all locations across the U.S. and Western Europe thanks to the areal images collected by Microsoft’s ambitious Global Ortho project.

Where Bing Maps goes bust

Of course, Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft without screwing up an overall solid product in some ridiculous way. In the case of Bing Maps, the absurd failure comes in the form of a completely inadequate mobile experience – the version most useful to people who need maps.

windows phone bing mapsAt the moment, Bing Maps is not a standalone app for iOS and Android devices – i.e. the smartphones and tablets most people use. (It is, however, available for Windows Phone 8 users.) Instead, it’s part of the larger Bing app. While the Android version is a bit more robust, the experience on Apple iOS is filled with glitches, there’s no turn-by-turn directions feature, and it often fails to even find the places I’m looking for.

Google, meanwhile, offers the absolute best mobile maps experience available. It’s intuitive, easy, and filled with helpful features. Its turn-by-turn directions work fantastically. And it recalculates with ease when you miss a turn. Bing Maps does exactly none of these things.

The reason for Microsoft’s neglect of Bing Maps on mobile may be Nokia, whose Here app has become the primary mapping tool for Windows Phone devices. But I’ve tried to use Here, and despite a few nice features, Google Maps still blows it out of the water.

Nowhere to go but up

The disparity between Google Maps and Bing Maps on mobile means it would be insane for anyone to make Bing their exclusive mapping option – despite the fact that, on the Web at least, Bing Maps is the clear winner (especially if you live in the U.S. or Western Europe). So listen up, Microsoft: If you want to get more people using Bing – and we know you desperately do – why not take what is arguably its greatest feature and make it available to everyone everywhere? Or would that just make too much sense?

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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