Windows Live Maps is awesome. Way better than Google Maps in my opinion. At least in terms of U.S. maps. Live Maps does it all so well. I love bird’s-eye-view maps. They give you a better look at what’s there. In major areas of course. Then there’s 3D cities that actually look photo-realistic. The maps themselves have a somewhat better looking format, and the UI is very clean on Live Maps. Traffic data is very helpful (implemented first by Live Maps, which Google added later). Plus tons of other stuff. But I’m not here to compliment Live Maps. I’m here to tell what they should work on. In looks, Windows Live wins. But in search relevance, the crown has to go to Google Maps. Here are things that I would love to see Live Maps fix or add:
- Better search relevancy – Google wins here definitely. With Live Maps, you really have to be more exact. Like instead of just simply typing "8500 Bay Area Blvd." (which in Google leads you right to it), you have to type "8500 Bay Area Blvd., Houston, TX" for it to get the right result in Live Maps. Or else you land somewhere in Nebraska, and not Houston. That’s what I don’t like. You sometimes have to be very specific to get the right location. Typing that ",city" or even that ",state" makes a difference. Also, Google seems to get it, that when I’m searching around locations in Houston, I want to stay in Houston. I’m searching several Houston locations in Live Maps, and it suddenly veers me to a different state when it doesn’t get what I’m looking for. Hello? I’m searching in Houston, so I would prefer to stay in Houston. Live Maps really needs to nail their search relevancy more.
- Default location – I hate how the default location in Live Maps is always based around Seattle, or the Washington area. I mean not everyone lives there. Of course Microsoft’s HQ is in that area, but that doesn’t mean it should be the default whenever a new user opens up Live Maps. It’s seems somewhat self-centered. I like how Google Maps opens up to the whole U.S. rather than their HQ. I also like how Google allows you to make any place you want a default location. So that when next time you open Google Maps, it opens at that spot. All though I wish you could just right-click and apply. Live Maps should allow that option, and make it more easier by just right-clicking and choosing ‘make it my default location’. Simple as that.
- ‘Collections’ needs to be ‘My Maps’ – ‘Collections’ is essentially your saved maps, like Google’s ‘My Maps’ is. Although some people just don’t get that. I mean, even I could understand how a first-timer might be confused. I read one of Scoble’s post about how he was confused at that part a bit. I admit, he has a point. I mean why call it ‘collections’? A collection of what? Places? Might as well just be simple, and call it ‘My Maps’. Much easier. And simpler.
- Fix up Traffic a little – Traffic is a great feature on Live Maps. It was even first before Google. For the most part, it’s great. Shows me traffic speeds on the main highways, and has little flags telling me what’s going on like maybe a traffic accident or a major event planned that will affect traffic. I just wished that they could have more wider coverage. And that sometimes traffic details aren’t too spotty. Like a section might not appear in a main part of the highway near downtown. I would love to see all that I can. It would also be neat if they could also integrate the same type of traffic data the same way Yahoo! Maps does with it’s own traffic data. Yahoo! Maps uses spots on their map to represent places of traffic, with each dot’s color representing speed of the area. Maybe Microsoft can allow Windows Mobile users with GPS, to mark spots of traffic on their commute. Like if I was sitting deep in the middle of traffic on I-10, I might want to give other people a head’s up about it, by getting out my Windows Mobile phone and tagging the spot I’m in with a heavy traffic icon. It probably needs GPS of course, and data can be collected more faster, to update the map faster. Dots from people like me will show up instantaneously on the map, and people can be aware of it faster, instead of relying on the local traffic center. That would be neat if they could do that.
- ‘Locate Me’ button needs work – I don’t think Google Maps offers this, so this is neat. But some parts of it aren’t. You can either find your location by having Microsoft search the IP Address or install some software that could find your location. Both of them flunked on me. Searching by IP address led to Austin. I live in northwest Houston! So obviously that was stupid. Then I tried install the Microsoft Location Finder app. It took quite awhile, and wasn’t too seamless, but it worked in about 2-3 minutes. I tried it, and what do you know? It also leads me to Austin! I can’t believe it. That was completely useless. I also had a somewhat hard time uninstalling it. The ‘Locate Me’ button is very pathetic. Either it works or it doesn’t. So they should definitely remove it, unless they can tweak it better.
- Fix the yucky search boxes – There seems to be too many search boxes on Live Maps. It’s somewhat confusing. The "Map" search tab should be first. Just one simple box. There’s a reason why people visit Live Maps : to look at maps of course. So the Maps tab should be first. "Businesses" tab should be second. Instead of having wordy search boxes telling you what to put in, how about simply putting ‘what’ or ‘what do you want to find’ in the first box, and ‘where’ or ‘where at’ in the bottom box. A much more simpler approach. ‘People’ tab should be last. It seems fine as it is. Those boxes should be more simplified.
- Live Local should now be Live Maps – The whole branding is still somewhat messed up on Live Maps. A Live search of "Live Maps" brings the first result ‘Live Local Search’. Windows Live Local (or Live Local) seems to be the old name. Windows Live Maps (or Live Maps) is the newer and better name. Live Local was probably centered around finding things in your local area. Well that kind of failed. There’s more to maps than just finding things nearby. So it had to switch to Live Maps. But it’s still not fully implemented. They really need to call it Live Maps, and get rid of the Live Local brand as soon as they can. It’s just something that died.
- Windows Live branding is somewhat weak – Just as I pointed out above, the brand is still somewhat weak in the other areas. There’s no Orb at the top. It’s just a Windows Live logo with Live Maps right next to it. The logo should be replaced with the Orb that similar to other Live services. A small, but somewhat important thing, is that there’s not a true Windows Live ID sign-in/sign-out logo at the top right. It’s just a simple sign-in/sign-out. The Windows Live ID logo thing should be on all Live sites (even MSN sites). Not having it, kind of ruins the branding a bit.
- Go international (more) – Windows Live Maps does a great job of doing the U.S.A. Although in other countries around the world, it does real poor. Hopefully, they can update aerial/road images much more faster around the world. It’s really weak compared to the U.S., which makes some users angry. Then they can move on to providing birds-eye-views and then even Virtual 3D buildings. The main thing is, update all the other parts of the world more faster. Then you’ll have some happy users.
- A separate Virtual Earth app – How about also providing a Google Earth experience? Google Earth is ok, but the whole UI is just plain ugly and bulky. Hopefully Windows Live Earth or Virtual Earth, or whatever it is, can do a much more better job, a better look, and other stuff. It would also be neat if they have NASA’s WorldWind UI in it. NASA WorldWind is NASA’s own Google Earth, and it has a much swifter UI. Just without the search box. But their images are surprisingly awful (I can barely see anything but fuzz up close. Even at a downtown view). Maybe the Virtual Earth team could team up with the NASA WorldWind team to provide a wonderful app, with an amazing UI and amazing map detail. That’s a big dream of course. Or Live Earth can be done by itself.
- Where’s Street Views in Live Maps? – Before Google had Street Views, Microsoft had a similar technology. Here’s the demo. Of course, Windows Live Local Preview is nothing like Google’s Street View. It’s ugly, yucky, bulky, hard to maneuver, and overall disgusting. It’s definitely not fit to compete Street View. But hopefully, they’ll soon update it with a better UI, a better look, and more cities and locations then what Google initially had. Plus no sneaky spying. Maybe they can blur out the people, or something. It would look pretty sad for a friend of yours to see you walking into that gay bar, or a dance studio, or somewhere just embarrassing. Or even be next to it. That’s what some people complained about Google Street Views. Plus, I like the idea of a 360 rotation on a point-grid map, rather than a ugly car type, stand-still approach, on a badly implemented structure. Windows Live really needs to work on that, or else they’re somewhat dead.
That’s about all I can think of, at the top of my head. They might not exactly be clear, but you should get it. You might notice that I always seem to compare Live Maps to Google Maps, and that I want Live Maps to have the some of the same stuff as Google Maps. Or basically, just copy what’s already existed in Google Maps. My point, is that I wish Live Maps could implement the best features of Google Maps, so that Live Maps, really could be the ultimate web map service. I could say the same for Google, and how I wish they could have what Live Maps had. But I don’t like Google, and I really think the Live Maps team could pull it off if they knew and tried.
So that’s my thoughts on what Live Maps could do. If they could do that, that would be awesome!