Google Maps set the bar for feature-rich online navigation services, with its open API and useful features. Microsoft's Bing is trying to jump over that bar. Bing has just launched Destination Maps, an expansion to its Google Maps-like navigation service that renders easy-to-follow route maps when plotting a destination.
Instead of showing an area map and superimposing a route on top of it, the Silverlight powered Destination Maps renders a new map specifically designed to find your destination. It cuts away the side streets and unnecessary routes and introduces a much more direct view of the area. It can render the map in four different ways, producing a conventional "American" or "European"-style street map, or a casually hand-sketched map, or a novelty treasure map.
This is just one of the many ways Microsoft's Bing team has tried to differentiate itself from Google's dominating Maps service.
Map Apps similar to Google Maps hacks. They include a Gas Prices App that shows how much gas costs at nearby stations, a Parking Finder App that shows where various garages are located, and even a Roadside Sculptures App that shows weird things you can see on the side of the road.
These features look very impressive, but they have their own share of issues. Destination Maps took several minutes to render a map to Rockefeller Center. The Streetside view displays extremely jarring contrasts between locations, snapping and shifting between reference photos abruptly. Photosynths are even worse, relying on a much less standardized system of taking photos that can cause the view to jump wildly between different perspectives. When they work well, they work very well, though.
Microsoft is clearly working very hard on making Bing Maps into a formidable competitor to Google Maps. With its broad and creative functionality, it might just do that.