Bing Maps is dropping their 3D version

Over the years, we’ve covered a variety of news stories about Bing Maps (formerly known as “Virtual Earth”). In particular, we were impressed with their “Version 2″ cities that included thousands of trees, and the 3D Clouds that they auto-generated based on the weather.
An an example, here is the Orange Bowl in Miami; notice the 3D trees all around the stadium, in the neighborhood behind it, etc:

orange_bowl.jpg

Sadly, Microsoft has announced that they’ll be removing the 3D maps layer entirely, and focusing more on their Bird’s Eye imagery and other technologies. In addition to removing the 3D layer, they’re also making the Bird’s Eye imagery available without the need for users to download the Silverlight plugin, making it more easily accessible to more users.
One other nice thing they’re doing is preserving 3D building links by automatically redirecting users to the closest approximation of the 3D building they were looking for. As CNET says:

To make sure the removal of 3D doesn’t litter the Web with a bunch of non-working URLs, the company is changing every map link, map tour, and desktop shortcut to simply direct users to whatever part of the map the 3D version had been pointing to. Buildings that had been 3D models before will also become pushpin locations.

It’s hard to say exactly why they’re dropping 3D support, though it’s clear that they’ve not added anything to it in quite a while. After launching a handful of their “Version 2″ cities back in 2008, I was anxious to see more but nothing else was ever released. I even contacted them a few times about it and got no response.
Part of the problem may have been that developers simply used Google Earth/Maps much more heavily than Bing Maps, and now Microsoft is retooling to approach things from a different angle. Microsoft didn’t support KML for quite a while, which probably kept more people tied into Google Earth — that’s certainly what happened to me.
In any case, it’ll be interesting to see where things go from here, as Microsoft is certainly doing some neat things. For example, this TED Talk that they gave in February showed off some very slick integration of their various products.
What do you think is the reason they’re dropping 3D support? Did you ever use it or develop anything for it? I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this.

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.



Comments

  1. That’s sad… Competition is good for business. I always liked the 3D-Buildings in Bing Maps, especially in Las Vegas. Just beatiful! One reason may be that there probably is, compared to Bing Maps without the 3D-Buildings, a huge amount of traffic. But if they are investing their money they save in the Bird’s Eye-view, it may be profitable.

  2. I think MSFT did not have a business model and could not create revenue from this. The integration was not going to work. Content investment was too high.

  3. I’m going to guess it’s because Microsoft is apparently moving away from Silverlight on the web.
    http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/30/rip-silverlight-on-the-web/

  4. Just to balance out the TechCrunch piece on Silverlight, here is a word from Scott Guthrie (who is responsible for leading the Silverlight efforts) which clarifies things: http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/archive/2010/11/04/silverlight-questions.aspx

  5. Nickvet419 says:

    I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. I’m actually happy they decided to discontinue virtual earth. Although, they did present some competition with trees, clouds, etc.. I still flocked to GE with KML’s and the easy to use Sketchup integration.
    Although VE is in the can, the 3D info is still being used and enhanced which excites me. When you are zoomed in on Bing maps in Birds Eye, and moving in Streetside, you can still see the 3D layer being used. Because 99% of these 3D buildings are computer generated they can be very accurate and thus be used in more integrating ways.
    I’m looking forward to the day when Bing maps has much smoother transitions and has the full 3D feeling while you’re moving though the cities. It is definitely a different and new approach and has lots of potential.
    @Claus Competition is far from over… What you have now is a competition over a more useful map and a lot more ways a 3D map can be used. What is now gone from the competition, is two companies building two identical cars arguing who has a better engine.
    RIP VE

  6. No more streetside then?

  7. @Kyle, actually, Streetside was never ported back to the old Direct3D Windows-only plugin. It was only available in Silverlight which works on Macs and PCs in all major browsers.
    The Silverlight and AJAX versions of Bing Maps are still actively being worked on.
    The announcement is really only that the hardware accelerated plugin that only worked in Internet Explorer and Firefox on Windows is being cancelled. Silverlight is still a go as it works in all major browsers on Macs and PCs.
    Many tech news sites apparently didn’t understand that there was a difference between the old Bing Maps 3D and Bing Maps Silverlight, so there were many factually incorrect reports written (the above article being one of the few to understand what was actually being cancelled).
    If you look at the things that Bing Maps is doing with Photosynth, etc., that is still all dealing with 3D data, so it isn’t so much that 3D is being dropped – rather Silverlight 4, though it has processing speed, doesn’t have hardware accelerated 3D and AJAX really has neither, so it will be another year or so before 3D returns to Bing Maps in Silverlight 5 or 6 (and possibly WebGL on the AJAX side of things).
    3D is most certainly the future. Bing Maps simply had to take a temporary step backwards in graphics power while rebuilding their 3D experience so that more people could use it.

  8. That’s sad they’re doing that. The 3d models were of great quality, but I’m sure they must have a good reason to do it. I hope they don’t remove Bird’s Eye View too!

  9. The problem is no body knows about it. Everytime I show anyone 3D maps in Bing, they’re like OMG why haven’t I heard about this? It figures they’d pull the plug on one of the coolest apps on the planet, but how do you make money flying around buildings? I go to Google for the search. I goto Bing for the maps, 3D and Birds Eye. Why can’t they save the 3D and make an online flight simiulator out of it?

  10. @Ricardo, Bird’s Eye View isn’t going anywhere.
    @Drew, 3D will come back via Silverlight and HTML5′s Canvas + CSS3 3D or WebGL. They’re not throwing away any of the 3D data. It’s only that the technologies which they’re currently using are going to force them to tame down the quality for a year or two.
    If you watch this video: http://ch9.ms/BPQ0 , you’ll see that 3D data does exist within Silverlight (and has since December of 2009). The big limiting factor of not getting the full 3D control back up and running is simply a matter of Silverlight’s lack of GPU support. As soon as that changes, you’ll see full 3D come back with features that the old control never had like Photosynths, Streetside panoramas, the photogrammetric city-wide stitch of Bird’s Eye View shots, etc. as well as whatever updates happen between now and 3D capabilities in Silverlight|HTML5 like Street Slide or Video Driving Directions as new contenders.

  11. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! WHY!!!?? Why did you remove it!!? It was such a good program!!! I hate you so much Microsoft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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