Microsoft‘s Bing Maps, like Bing Search and Zune, is one of Microsoft’s great underrated surprises. It may seem like a ripoff of a better-known product (in this case, Google Maps), and that’s not entirely inaccurate, but it’s also unfair. Because Bing Maps is, well, pretty great.
Microsoft just rolled out a new aesthetic look to its maps, mostly involving tones, fonts, and colors. There’s some interesting physiology and psychology behind the decision–for example, having cooler colors receded while warmer colors emerge creates a contrast that’s not as obvious as, say, transparency, but just as effective.
There’s also a new red, green, and yellow overlay on streets to demonstrate traffic patterns, plus easier-to-read fonts (very reminiscent of Windows Phone 7) and nice little details like larger fonts for larger roads. Of course, to take advantage of the new maps, you’ll have to download yet another version of Microsoft Silverlight, Microsoft’s answer to Flash (it’s not bad, really, but aside from Netflix and the Olympics it’s not used very widely).
The other cool news involving Bing Maps is the continued wow factor demonstrated by entrants in the “King of Bing Maps Challenge.” Microsoft put out the word to encourage the submission of innovative additions to Bing Maps, with the three best to be selected by journalists and other experts, and the King finally crowned. My favorite so far? The cab fare calculator.
You just type in your starting and ending destinations, and the app figures out your fare based on normal cab rates for your area, with distance, time, and pick-up charges all factored in. It also offers the fastest route, so you can figure out of your cabbie is trying to screw you (or doesn’t know what he’s doing). That app is available over at Bing right now–but not for mobile quite yet. That’s a bummer, since it’d be perfect for mobile use. Hopefully that’ll be coming later.