Google and Bing have come a long way since Mapquest. Now, we no longer look at standard road maps with their squiggly highway lines and state boundaries. Instead, we take advantage of satellite imagery, zooming in from space to a bird's eye-view of your neighbor's backyard, and we can even zero in to street-view, where we see the world through a virtual lens at sidewalk-level.
Today, Microsoft takes the virtual world one step closer to home with Photosynth, a free app for the the iPhone, iPad 2, and iPod Touch that enables consumers to create 360-degree panoramas of the world around them, and upload the virtual images to Bing Maps. The idea is to create another layer beyond street view, where users can not only roam the streets of cities and towns, but enter buildings and restaurants, too. (Read more about the genesis of Photsynth.)
Imagine, for example, you're visiting the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. Simply pop out your iPhone, launch Photosynth, and begin recording your surroundings. The app will capture the images as you twirl, instantly stitching them together to create a high-resolution panorama that can then be zoomed in on, stretched, or panned around with. Next, users have the option to publish that 3D environment to Bing, which will incorporate it into its Maps offering.
Panorama apps already exist for smartphones, but most are slow, cost money, and do not provide integration with Bing. Beside the fact that Microsoft's app is free and stitches panoramas in seconds, the app also allows you to "dive in" to a location on Bing more than you ever could before.
"Now a local business can create a panorama for their business within about a minute. Imagine the power here?" says Stefan Weitz, director at Bing. "We've given the millions of people with this device the ability to literally map the world."
Read More: Most Innovative Companies: Microsoft