Microsoft Offers Aerial View of US

Microsoft, following in Google’s footsteps, is now offering a bird’s-eye view of the United States with MSN Virtual Earth. The company debuted the service last night.

Virtual Earth marries mapping and online local searches, showing results in an aerial view using satellite images. Users can find a specific address or search for business categories (such as Chinese restaurants) in their area.

Keeping Up With Google

“From a competitive perspective, I can see why Microsoft would want to keep pace with archrival Google or exceed it, and there’s no question that MSN Virtual Earth does some nifty things,” Joe Wilcox, senior analyst, Jupiter Media, told TechNewsWorld.

Google Earth was released June 28. Both services are free to users. While Wilcox thinks the idea is interesting, he said he thinks it’s applications will be different from those of simple map and direction searches.

“The larger question is ‘It’s cool, but who needs it?’ If I’m flying an airplane or helicopter, I’m probably concerned with the aerial view. If I’m driving around in a car, the aerial view is not so helpful. A map is something everybody is familiar with. Printing out driving directions makes sense,” he said.

But he also said that he can imagine many specialized uses for aerial mapping. For instance, contractors, real estate agents and homebuyers, and insurance assessors may all find it valuable to be able to see what is around a property.

Niche Markets

“There are definitely uses for this type of technology,” Wilcox said. “Let’s say you’re thinking of moving from Fargo, N.D., to Phoenix, this type of utility will help you assess neighborhoods, and how close the house is to other things. If you’re thinking of the traditional use of the maps, this isn’t so useful, but if you’re thinking of new uses, this makes sense.”

Or, if you’re staying in a hotel and are looking for a place to eat, you can easily see the other businesses and attractions you will pass on your way to dinner, making an unfamiliar place seem more familiar.

Although Microsoft has not said whether or not it will sell advertising on Virtual Earth, there are ample opportunities for ads attached to local searches.

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