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6 Million Downloads Later, Microsoft Photosynth Goes Global

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Photosynth is, without doubt, one of Microsoft's more impressive mobile apps. The app lets you snap panorama pictures with your iPhone and then upload them to Photosynth.net (and you can even get them featured on Bing Maps). While the mobile app doesn't give you quite as many features as the web app – which allows you to stitch together 3D panoramas by combining images from multiple perspectives – the app has proven to be quite a hit.

According to Microsoft, 6 million iPhone users have downloaded the app so far (though, as usual, it's not clear how many active users there currently are). More importantly, though, the company also today announced that Photosynth is now available worldwide (iTunes link).

Also new in the latest version is a tighter integration with Twitter (via iOS5's built-in Twitter capabilities). 

In case you are unfamiliar with Photosynth, here is Microsoft's description of the app's capabilities:

Capture Full-Sphere Panoramas: Look and capture in all directions more easily than what most of us can do with DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras.

View immediately: With fast On-Device Processing, you can see the final panorama in a few minutes, without requiring an internet connection or data plan.  Very handy for those impromptu panoramas and immediate gratification that you captured the perfect shot. 

Save locally and on the cloud:  Your panoramas saved on your phone can also be saved and viewed online at http://photosynth.net.

Share immediately:  Share your panorama immediately via Twitter, Facebook or Bing Maps.

View in browser or app: Zoom, pan, and rotate your panorama in any direction through the Photosynth app or through the mobile browser.



11:31 am


Bing Maps Gets Faster, Smarter Driving Directions

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Microsoft today updated Bing Maps with a new routing engine that will make calculating driving directions on the service faster and smarter. Based on theoretical work done by a team at Microsoft Research, the Bing team today switched out its old routing algorithm for its own creation earlier today. According to Microsoft, this new algorithm will calculate routes about twice as fast as the previous one. In addition, developers will now also be able to request up to three alternate routes with a single request (oddly enough, Bing Maps itself does not present you with alternate routes in the way the mapping app on the iPhone does, for example).

While calculating driving directions seems like a pretty mundane task to most of us who use these services virtually every day, routing algorithms are actually pretty complicated. Until now, Microsoft used a modified version of Dijkstra's algorithm.

As the Microsoft Research team notes in its paper, though, most of the existing algorithms focused mostly on driving times (especially in the pre-processing stage that turns the map data into bits that the algorithm can use), but didn't take into account that users now expect walking and biking directions, as well as other features like avoiding traffic jams and U-turns etc. Microsoft then went out to develop a system that makes it faster and easier to incorporate real-time traffic data, for example, and can even handle personalized driving directions (say you drive a truck with height and weight restrictions).

For all the gory details about how this works, have a look at the Microsoft Research paper. As a user, though, the main advantage here is speed, as well as the promise of more personalized routing directions in the future.

Bing routing



8:38 pm


Bing Maps for Mobile Goes Indoors With Mall and Airport Maps

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Bing Maps, Microsoft’s often underrated mapping product added yet another feature to its line-up today: indoor maps for Bing Maps for Mobile on iOS, Android and Blackberry devices. Bing Maps for the desktop already included this feature since December and the “Mango” update for Windows Phone also includes this functionality in its native maps app. Now, however, even more users will be able to use this feature, which also gives Bing another feature that Google Maps doesn’t yet offer.

clip_image008Bing’s indoor maps are available for about 400 shopping malls and a number of airports in the U.S.  The service includes some nifty features such as the ability to switch between different levels in big malls.

Microsoft also made it easier for users to find these maps. Just search Bing or Bing Maps for the name of the mall and click on the “Mall Map” link that now graces the bottom left corner of the screen when an indoor map is available.

It looks like Microsoft developed these maps itself, but it is worth noting that there are also a number of other companies that offer indoor mapping services. Micello, for example, just launched and API for indoor maps that other developers can add to their apps and Point Inside has long offered apps with indoor maps for malls and airports (including some international ones).



6:42 pm


Bing Maps Gets a New Interface and More Readable Maps

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Microsoft today launched a new interface for Bing Maps, the company’s Google Maps competitor. The Bing team mostly focused on changing the layout of toolbar at the top of the screen, which now consolidates virtually all of the features that were, as Microsoft puts it, “scattered throughout the page.” Bing Maps now also has some country-specific features, including access to more detailed public transit maps and Ordnance Survey-style maps of London for users in the UK, for example. (more…)



10:53 pm


Microsoft Brings Order and Higher Resolutions to Bing Maps’ Aerial Images

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For consumers, the search rivalry between Microsoft’s Bing and Google has a number of advantages, even outside of the core search features both companies offer. Mapping is one of these areas where the two companies are continuously pushing each other to improve their products. Bing Maps has long been a very good mapping service (arguably better than Google’s offerings in some areas), but just like Google Maps, the quality of the images used in the application was often inconsistent. With its Global Ortho program, which launched in 2010, Microsoft aims to bring more consistency to the user experience when it comes to the resolution and quality of the satellite and aerial images it uses. The first fruits of these efforts are slowly becoming more apparent in Bing Maps now and Microsoft just launched an update to its Bing Maps World Tour to showcase the quality of these new images. (more…)



9:49 pm


Microsoft Streetside Isn’t Just a Google Streetview Clone Anymore

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Microsoft today released a number of major updates to the Streetside feature in Bing Maps. Streetside used to be very similar to Google’s Streetview, but Microsoft just mixed things up a bit and included an important twist. Instead of showing you the street from a car driver’s perspective, Streetside shows you pictures of the buldings on the right or left side of the street. Using Streetside now feels a bit more like walking down a city block than driving down a street. Until today, users jumped from one bubble with a 360 degree view to the next. Now, however, you can smoothly move up and down any street, choose which side of the street you want to see with just one click and also switch to another street at an intersection. (more…)



6:10 pm