Not only did Microsoft recently release their first version of the Bing Maps Silverlight Control but they’ve now gone a released even more, remarkable features to the whole mapping experience – notably with the addition of Bing Maps Beta today!

Normal links from the Bing homepage will take you to the Bing Maps page (www.bing.com/maps) which is a fully loaded Ajax application.

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 01

To get to the new Bing Maps Beta go to www.bing.com/maps/explore instead. If you don’t have Silverlight installed, the site will revert to the Ajax application with a nice big friendly overlay telling you that you should install Silverlight to make the most of what Bing has to offer. I like the fact that some thought has been thought over the user experience when Silverlight is not installed, since Silverlight is creeping up the adoption curve, but is not as mainstream as we like, yet – at least the system falls back to the Ajax offering, thus allowing the user to continue and not get frustrated and moving over to other map sites.

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 02

The new site is actually a full screen Silverlight 3 application… yes that includes the Bing header (menu items, sign in, etc) too! The layout is nearly identical to the Ajax version. Content differs immensely though – the left pane now has location awareness and displays weather (annoyingly in Fahrenheit), geotagged photo collections and PhotoSynths too. The left pane also helps draw the user into exploring other areas of the map by providing a sliding set of overlays from which you can turn on/off the various layers that result from the interaction and queries with the map.

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 03

Navigation about the map have changed too. Both sets of navigation around the maps work well but I personally think that the the Silverlight version has neater iconography the only niggle is that the controls are not high contrast enough if they are to “float above” the map at the bottom of the screen. You can see this in below:

Ajax version (Bing Maps) navigation and options.. neatly tidied in the top left corner and high contrast

Microsoft Bing Maps Ajax 01 Microsoft Bing Maps Ajax 02

Silverlight version (Bing Maps Beta) has funky new iconography, but the contrast is a bit poor so the controls dissolve into the map sometimes

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 04 Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 05

 

Tucked away at the bottom of the left pane, is a little arrow (I’ve highlighted it below) and this brings up a panel overlay that brings your attention to the exciting new aggregation features available on Bing Maps Beta

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 06

Although there are 16 content features displayed on this panel, it is scrollable, so I wonder if Microsoft Bing are planning on adding some more content features at a later date? These content features all interact with various datasets behind the Bing search services and just begs to be played with. Being location specific, you might find that at the datasets are a bit sparse at present and zooming out to a higher map level will reveal areas of the map that relate to the content feature selected.

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 07

To illustrate a content feature, I clicked on the “What’s nearby” and was pleasantly surprised to see a responsive list of points of interest around the centre of the map. An excellent visual reinforcement of the area of interest is given by a blue “ring of focus” which allows the searching algorithms to perform a “radial search” – restriction without feeling restricted. Once the Bing Maps directory lookup is complete, the map is peppered with points of interest contained within the “ring of focus”… the ring then disappears to unclutter the map window. A very tidy categorisation of waypoints then replace the left hand pane, allowing you to select/deselect the various points of interest of matter to your exploration. As expected, there are rollouts for each of the points of interest, allowing you to plan, save, send or discover more about that individual point – all data supplied by Bing Maps directory listings.

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 08

The left pane is pleasingly contextual, in that as you select more layers or content features, a legend appears with a list of the layers applied to the map. From here you can remove or modify your selections and they’ll be immediately reflected in the map window.

 Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 09

Onto Bing Maps StreetSide.

Yes, Google StreetView got to the masses first but Microsoft has put together their take on augmented reality and has published StreetSide (it probably helps that all the privacy and legal issues have settled down now). Similar to Google, look for the person icon at the bottom of the map window. Your mouse pointer will then transform itself into either a blue or red person pointer that gives you an indication if StreetSide is available for the area of the map, and what you can do with StreetSide once you have found an enabled location.

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 10 this icon starts the StreetSide experience
Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 11 this map pointer will tell you StreetSide IS available for the part of the map you are viewing
Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 12 this map pointer will tell you StreetSide IS NOT available for the part of the map you are viewing

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 13 Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 14 Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 15 Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 16 once inside the the StreetSide experience, the mouse pointer will change to give you intuitive directionality around the area and highlight points of interest.

 Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 17

 

Unfortunately, looking at the London area (specifically around the office I work in) I get the red person pointer (access denied) where ever I go. Since this is a beta programme at the moment, I really should not be too surprised that my local area is not covered!

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 18

Indeed, zooming further out from London, then the UK, then Europe, the World, reveals that only some areas of the US are actually covered by StreetSide.

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 19

Once you have delved deeper and deeper into the area of the map that is served by StreetSide, the familiar points of interest will reveal themselves and placing the blue person pointer. Selecting either the pin or a highlighted street will take you through a funky animation from map view into the augmented reality view that is StreetSide. The interactions within the StreetSide experience are reminiscent of PhotoSynth albeit there are no frame boundaries to suggest that you are stepping from one image to another – instead it is seamlessly merged and spliced together.

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 20

But the fun does not stop there! Contextual information is key to making the mashup of augmented reality and local information work together and enrich the whole exploration and discovery experience. Just like the top-down map view, StreetSide also updates the left panel whenever you move it to a recognised point of interest. Thus, no only can you walk down the street and look at a snapshot in time and feel the atmosphere, but you can turn the corner end up at a museum, look at it in more detail and then read about the opening times or an event held there. I nearly missed the pull out handle on the left pane, but realised that the regular left hand pane is actually a summary view, clicking the handle gives you a much larger viewing panel with detailed information.

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 21

Augmented reality does not stop there though, PhotoSynth has been integrated too! If there are any local PhotoSynths to the area you are viewing, it will show up in the left context pane with all the summary information; otherwise you can look specifically for PhotoSynths through the content features which will add a layer to your maps and search a wider area. Unfortunately none of my PhotoSynths turned up when I navigated to the Sha Tin Racecourse, Hong Kong (my PhotoSynths can be found here)

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 22

Last nugget… We’ve also got Birds Eye view… not a particular big deal since we’ve had this feature in the Ajax’ed version of Multimap and Bing Maps for a while now. But it’s been one of the frequently requested features of the  Bing Maps Silverlight User Control that powers a our integration between Silverlight and Bing Map data services. Chris Pendleton and Johannes Kebeck from the Bing Maps team have been touting its imminent arrival, so finally its here!

20091202-bingmaps-silverlight-streetside-23

A couple of notable differences that were not pushed into the Bing Maps Beta version:

1) Sharing options are reduced, mainly because you are not allowed to embed the Bing Maps Beta control within your own website (because it only exists as a full browser window application. You can only send a link to the Bing Maps Beta site.

2) As seen below in the Ajax version, if you zoom deep enough into London, a Tube icon will appear in the left pane (highlighted in red, below) which toggles the Tube line plots, so you can see where the tunnels go!

Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight 24

Overall, an amazing evolution for Bing Maps !!

 

UPDATE: there’s a really good demo video here on Channel9 by Chris Pendleton and Laura Foy

 

This is a cross post from my EMC blog, mainly for backup duplicity and to aggregate some of my past postings. My EMC blog used to be under the Conchango brand but was acquired by EMC so I’ve also retrospectively refreshed some of the old links and maybe a tweak a bit of content too.

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