As Microsoft promised during its BUILD developer conference earlier this year, the company today launched a first preview of its new maps app for Windows 8.1. The highlight of this release is the addition of 3D imagery, something Microsoft tried a few years ago with Bing Maps online but then shelved after it moved away from its proprietary Silverlight technology. The new app is now available in the Windows Store.
Microsoft says to create these 3D imagery, it processed over 121 trillion pixels to date to build this 3D environment. And it shows. The imagery is extremely clear and detailed, and after a first look, it feels like it easily rivals and often bests Google’s efforts, especially when it comes to trees and smaller objects like cars and kiosks.
In total, Microsoft is making 3D maps of 70 cities available in this preview. These range from Canberra in Australia to Bremen, Germany and Portland, Maine. What’s missing, though, are most of the world’s larger cities. There’s no New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Berlin or London here so far, but Microsoft will likely add many of these before it releases the final version of the app.
As Microsoft is prone to do these days, the app is mostly optimized for touch. It works quite well with a mouse, but if you want to really enjoy it, it feels like you would need a Windows tablet or touch-enabled laptop because tilting and rotating by dragging buttons left or right just doesn’t feel all that natural with a mouse.
The app also makes Streetside, Microsoft’s version of Street View, available for those who want to take a closer look at a street from ground level. Microsoft experimented with different versions of this tool over the years. It is now essentially a Street View clone, though it does have one nice feature: you can optionally see a large map at the bottom of the screen, which makes navigating a bit easier than with the small map Google uses in the corner of its Street View images.
As expected, the app also features the usual search functionality, traffic info and other features. It’s integrated with Open Table and when that’s not enough, you can also start a Skype call by clicking on a phone number.