Jamie Thomson

Thoughts, about stuff

Mobile Maps

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[This blog entry was originally published here]
 

Google have created quite a stir with their Google Maps for Mobile tool (my colleague Keni Barwick has talked about it here) but did you know that Microsoft have had a very similar tool called Windows Live Search for Mobile available for alot longer? These two products are the best examples that I can think of to illustrate the software-and-a-service paradigm that is emerging. The software is the thing you install on your phone, the service is the search engines that sit in the cloud.

I assumed that Keni would have used the Windows Live product rather than the Google one because he’s generally a Microsoftophile so I asked him why he didn’t. Here’s the email conversation we had (copied word for word):

Me: Why didn’t you use the Windows Live version?
Keni: It’s ****
Me: Why? Give me more [reasons] than that.
Keni: I can’t mate as I’ve not tried it to be honest

This kinda goes back to the branding debate that I talked about recently. People just assume that the Google one will be better because its Google. As usual though the reason that nobody knows about the Windows Live offering is that Microsoft do such a poor job of telling people.

I’ve been using both of them for quite a while and in this blog entry I’m going to do a comparison piece on the two. And it will be completely unbiased. I promise.

For conciseness I’ll refer to Google Maps for Mobile as GMM and Windows Live Search for Mobile as WLS.

Overview

Essentially the two are pretty much the same, its the odd nuance here and there that differentiate them. They both provide the same basic functionality:

  • Search for locations, businesses, services and places of interest and display them on a map
  • Integrate with your phone’s built-in or connected GPS receiver (if it has one). I don’t have a GPS receiver unfortunately so haven’t been able to test this out.
  • Live traffic information is available provided you live in a big US city. I don’t so I haven’t tested this either.
  • Driving directions

The killer feature for me has been the driving directions. I’ve been living in a new part of the world for the past 10 months and these tools have been invaluable to me in finding my way about. Its been like having an AtoZ of the entire planet in my pocket. That’s no overstatement. As I say though there ARE some differences so, here comes my blow-by-blow account of GMM and WLS.

The Maps

The maps on GMM are the same as what you will see on http://maps.google.com/. Similarly the maps on WLS are the same as what you will see on http://maps.live.com/ so your choice of whether to use GMM or WLS may well depend on which of the full online versions you use.

I did a search on both products for "Edinburgh Castle" and here are what they both display:

       

and here are the aerial/satellite shots

       

As you can see they’re very similar. The key difference is that WLS overlays roadnames onto the aerial shots, GMM doesn’t. In the case of this search on Edinburgh Castle GMM has more detail on the map than WLS.

Pressing 1 on the screenshots from GMM above will display basic contact information although in this case it didn’t provide the phone number anywhere which WLS manages to display on the map.

Searching

By comparing the search abilities we are kind of taking this outside the realm of just comparing GMM and WLS but we can’t really compare the software part of software-and-a-service without considering its interaction with that service.

The comparison here is basically the same as that with their big brothers, Google Maps and Live Maps. GMM has a single searchbox whereas WLS has two, one for the business or service that you are searching for and another for the location.

       

I won’t comment on which is the better approach, plenty of people have done that before me and you can make your mind up for yourself..

 

I did some more test searches to see which returned the better results. First test, search for my employer, "Conchango, London".

       

WLS managed to find our head office whereas GMM didn’t return anything. Note I tried just using "conchango" as the search term and got the same result.

Next I tried searching for my hometown rugby team:

       

As you can see, both came up with nought so I tried the footy team instead.

       

GMM couldn’t find anything whereas WLS actually returned 5 different links, none of them pertaining to the actual real location. I’d rather not have any results at all rather than inaccurate ones so all things considered searching is pretty much a tie.

Extra Features

Both GMM and WLS have features that the other has not.

I particularly like GMM’s Contacts integration whch adds a menu item ‘Locate in Google maps…’ to any contact containing an address as can be seen here:

 

and indeed in this case it managed to successfully locate the address on a map as seen here:

 

 

WLS has got a very nice feature that categorises businesses and services thus allowing you to search for a list of those services that are local for you. For example, here’s a series of screenshots that show how I can get a list of restaurants local to my (temporary) home in Bakersfield, California.

 >  >  >

Of course, you can map all of those results as well:

(As you can see, Bakersfield isn’t blessed with a plethora of great restaurants!)

 

As you can see both tools are very similar whilst both have some extra features that give them a unique selling point. I can’t make my mind up which is better and I tend to flip between the two of them which admittedly is pretty stupid given the meagre rations of disk space and processing power available on my phone.

I hope this has proved useful. If you have any questions or comments about features on the two of them then don’t hesitate to reply here with a comment.

 

-Jamie

 

 

 

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Written by Jamiet

August 14, 2007 at 2:23 am

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