Google has cornered the market in street-level photographic mapping, but are there other alternatives?
Google Street View was first introduced to the world all the way back in 2007, with a limited number of American cities, but with a Sergey Brin-driven dream that one day they’d map the entire world at street level , you can now go on virtual tours of exciting far-flung places that you may otherwise never have the chance to see.
The 360° view of the world is now built in to Google Maps and Google Earth, both on desktop computers and the Android smartphone platform, and used daily by millions of people to pin-point locations they’re planning on visiting, or to simply have a closer look at famous places of interest.Most of the UK was mapped by the end of 2009, though the question is that, if you actively choose not to use Google’s services, are there any other sable options available?
Microsoft Bing Maps
Launched in December 2009, Microsoft’s alternative to Street View - named Streetside - was tied in to the 2010 Winter Olympics and started with imagery of British Columbia, before slowely making its way across America, and eventually Europe in 2012.
Streetside works in much the same way in most major cities throughout the UK, but with more limited coverage than Google’s blanket offering, there’s still no street level imagery in smaller towns and the countryside.
Navigating the street-level imagery is straightforward and quite similar to Google’s system, and whilst some images suffer from less visual artefacting than Street View, images are generally of a slightly lower quality, especially if you zoom in.
Nokia HERE Maps
Based on technology originally developed by Chicago-based mapping company NAVTEQ, Nokia’s mapping service has gone through a number of evolutions on its way to becoming what is now known as HERE maps.
Back in 2011, Earthmine would have featured on this list alongside Bing and HERE, where it not for Nokia buying them out in 2012 and amalgamating their mapping technology. HERE’s street-level imagery is now simply referred to as street-level mapping, and uses a combination of image sources, which is sometimes identical to Microsoft’s Bing maps, and other times completely different.
Because of the variation in mapping sources, image quality does vary between areas, and it suffers the same coverage black-spots as Microsoft’s Streestside imagery, leaving it again some way behind Google’s Street View service.
The final alternative we were able to track down is a little different, and comes in the form of sporadic user-captured photographs that are tagged in on a map with their location. It’s a far cry from Street View, but gives some great views from a whole host of locations around the UK, and the world.
As you’d expect with any service that relies on its users to submit content, photographs are few and far between, and really only London has a useful amount of photos in its library.
You can easily tell where more active users are located, as there’s a rash of photographs concentrated in certain areas, but really OpenStreetView is more of a bit of fun than any worthwhile competitor to Google Street View. In many ways its closer to (the far more populated) ‘Panoramio’ - which is built in to Google Maps - than Street View itself.
If you’ve got a Windows phone from Nokia or one of the other few proponents of Microsoft’s mobile OS, then HERE Maps and Bing Maps are worthy alternatives to Google Street View, but only really if you live in one of the larger cities throughout the UK. For everyone else, nothing comes close to the almost blanket coverage that Google’s service provides, and we can’t see that changing any time soon.