Can you remember the time when, if you wanted to know how to get somewhere, you needed to look on a paper map? Before mapping was at all available online, people would either buy paper maps or license software packages – sometimes at great expense – that had road information in a database, so they could plan journeys.
A company called NextBase released an early PC application called “Autoroute” that was bought by fleet transport managers and the likes, who might have saved time and fuel by more efficiently planning the routes that their vehicles would take. This made it worth the £500 or so that the software package cost†.
† this figure is made up, because I can’t for the life of me find any reference to the actual cost, but I do remember it was A LOT. Like, enough to drive a lot of pirate copies…
Now AutoRoute, Streets & Trips and their more professional data analysis counterpart, MapPoint, have all shuffled off to make way for the more popular – and mostly free – online mapping tools that people use today. Microsoft acquired MultiMap along the way, to bring additional expertise and technology to the Bing Maps platform.
So, most people will now use Bing Maps or Google Maps (Street View not available in all places) for finding directions. The latter is particularly good for finding places where you don’t need to know their address; put the name of a restaurant into Google Maps in a browser, or onto the Google Maps app on your phone, and you can get directions straight there without even bothering to look it up first.
Tip: if you search for the name of a place in Bing Maps, it shows you the result in a pop-out pane on the left, but sometimes leaves you trying to zoom & scroll, zoom & scroll to get the detail around your destination… to quickly go there, click once on the title banner (“Microsoft UK” in the example below) to collapse it, and once again to bring it back – at which point, the map view should zoom to the point.
Anyway, Bing Maps is improving its ability to find stuff around any given point – nearby restaurants, attractions, parking, that kind of thing – and this has now percolated through into a nicely updated Maps application for Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile.
To see what version of Windows Maps you’re running, click the elipsis in the top right, choose Settings and scroll to the bottom to see the version number – at time of writing, the updated version is Maps 5.1705.1391.0 but insiders will be on a later release.
If you search for a place, or even just right-click somewhere on a map to Drop a Pin, you’ll get the option to see what’s nearby and quickly find more details, plan a route to the destination etc.
As well as integrating place info better, the Maps app also has some nice traffic reporting capabilities – if Cortana knows your home and work locations, Maps will immediately think about your commute when you click on the traffic lights icon near the top right. As well as showing a colour coded traffic map, it shows public traffic cameras and lets you easily access them.
And if you plan a route using the driving directions, you can pin that route to your Start menu if it’s one you use a lot…
Read more about other updates to Windows Maps in the recent weeks.
The development of accurate maps was one of humankind’s biggest advances (after learning to talk) that enabled exploration and other developments. Mobile and online technology have advanced mapping (especially timely access to accurate maps) in ways that only a few years ago, most of us could never have imagined.
Automated maps in cars have been around for quite a while but it was only the widespread availability of GPS and the falling cost of electronics that made it feasible to think of sat nav as standard kit for lots of cars, though it doesn’t stop some gouging car makers from charging a healthy premium for installing a system that is years-old in design and will be completely obsolete by the time the user gets their next smartphone.
Most of us can remember the first time we saw Google Earth – spent a while looking up where we live, where we used to live, where we’ve been on holiday etc. Amazingly, though, Google didn’t know what they were going to do with the technology when they acquired it, but figured if they build it and people start using it, they’ll figure out how to monetise that later. And they did.
Microsoft has its own mapping technologies, of course – sometimes developed in partnership or licensed from 3rd parties, and there are a couple of places where they stand out from those available elsewhere: the Birds Eye view in Bing Maps shows some cracking imagery, for example.
If you’re set to use Bing Maps in the UK (go to the gear icon on the top right, click Settings, Region and choose United Kingdom) then you’ll also get access to the Ordnance Survey* maps which show topographical features, footpaths, bridleways, landmarks and all sorts – see above map of part of an old bit of West Berks as an example.
Windows 10 PC & Mobile
Windows 8.x had a Maps app that was interesting to a degree, but didn’t really offer much more than you’d get in a browser (apart from offline support). HERE Maps still publishes a decent app for PC users, though it’s still not a lot more than you’d get if you just went to a mapping site like Bing, or HERE.com itself. The new HERE site doesn’t even promote the Windows app, so make of that what you will.
There is a new Maps app for Windows 10 mobile & PC, that is quite a bit better, though. The app lets you download maps locally and will also function as a sat nav if you have a GPS in your device – so either a Windows 10 Mobile device (aka a phone) or some sort of tablet thing could be used in-car, with turn-by-turn directions, 3D views etc.
There are essentially 3 cool features about the maps app that set it apart from others, especially when used on a phone with Windows 10 Mobile:
* The Ordnance Survey is one of the oldest mapping organisations in the world, tracing its history back to the aftermath of some troublesome northerners planning to install an itinerant French waif as their king.
[Billy Connolly – ergo, seriously, NSFW – has a few words to say about BPC]