A couple of days ago, Long Zheng, an Australian tech blogger who focuses on Microsoft, posted a rant entited “Bing Maps looked ugly before, now looks like s***” about a recent update to Bing Maps that changed the color scheme and the handling of labels in the online mapping software. As can be divined from the title, he was not happy with the update.
However, I had quite different feelings. I haven’t spent much time comparing online mapping software in the past. Generally if I need directions, I’ll pull up Google Maps, put them in and print them out, so I hadn’t seen what Bing looked like before the update. However, after playing around with the two sites for a little while after reading Long Zheng’s post, I developed a distinct liking for Microsoft’s presentation
As a fairly stark example of the difference in feel here are two screenshots of the Minneapolis area from Bing Maps on the top and Google maps on the bottom displayed at comparable zoom levels:
Which do you like better?Obviously, I prefer the former, and that’s because it makes better use of the mind’s focus. Google approached the issue by trying to display as much information as possible with good contrast. The bright orange roads with a darker outer tone and a lighter inner tone give them much more contrast to the surroundings than do Microsoft’s monotone lavender roads. As well, the white borders around the words allows for easy reading of the labels, regardless of what’s behind them.
However, while Google’s maps would seem better if one focused on each part, Microsoft’s come out superior because of how they interact to form the whole. Perhaps the people of Buffalo or New Richmond would not be pleased by their absence from this zoom level on Bing Maps, but their absence reduces the noise and allows one to focus attention on the more important parts of the map.
Furthermore, the use of lower contrast roads allows Microsoft to remove the white borders, thus reducing the text’s obstruction of the features behind it all while increasing the maximum size of the label, further centering one’s focus. While the map is less detailed than Google’s, the information it provides is more accessible and useful.
Now, of course, Long Zheng being an Aussie, he focused on on a city of the American Midwest, but rather on Sydney to make his case. Here is the view from Bing that he provided as key to his case:
And he has a point. The grayed out all caps neighborhood names do seem like noise and it is an undeniable mistake on Microsoft’s part that “Milson’s Point” and “KIRRIBILLI” render each other unreadable. For comparison, here’s Google’s presentation at the same level:
It would appear less cluttered and so would seem to render my original point of praise for Bing Maps moot. But I think that Bing’s strength comes out when you zoom in one level:
Microsoft takes advantage of the change in zoom levels whereas Google does not. As you zoom in on Bing Maps, the focus turns to the roads rather than the neighborhoods, because as you get closer, that’s what’s more relevant. Ultimately to see Bing’s advantage here, you have to compare the two services side by side because its strength comes out through dynamic usage.
Now, there are many other pros and cons to these services, but a list wouldn’t be as useful as the experience of using the two products, so I’d invite any readers that have made it this far to go out and do so if they’re so inclined. Obviously, as the post title says, I prefer Bing’s model to Google’s, but it’s a matter of taste.