Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Google Maps vs. Windows Live Search on Pocket PC

Here's a short comparison of Google Maps and Windows Live Search running on a just purchased Sprint PPC-6800 (HTC Mogul). This may end up turning into a what's wrong with Microsoft rant, but I'll try and control myself.

When you start Google Maps, you get... a map:


It's immediately apparent how to search, zoom, and scroll. Ah, we're in business.

When you start Microsoft Live Search you get... an option to look at gas prices.


The whole focus in Live Search shifts from dealing with maps to looking for content and then mapping the results. Notice the "Speak" button down at the bottom left. This prominant placement gives some indication of Microsoft's presumed plans to make speech input central to the Windows Mobile experience. More on this crucial feature later.

It's unforutunate that Live's search textbox isn't a dropdown to provide a history of previous searches.


Just figuring out how to run Live Search is a bit of a challenge. On the Today screen (home screen) for the Mogul, there's a search window labeled "Live Search", which will let you get at maps, but these are web based static Virtual Earth images and has no interaction with the Pocket PC application "Windows Live Search". And make sure you don't run "Windows Live" which brings up Hotmail and Messenger. You need to select "Live Search" from Start.Programs. Ah, Microsoft branding at work!

Google Maps

Windows Live Search

Download Size



image image

Load time

3 seconds2 seconds to Gas Price option, then 2 seconds to map.

Map Comparisons

image image Overall, I find Google's color scheme is more pleasing but this is subject to the vagaries of display and backlighting.
image image

Google displays less content but gives freeway off-ramps and some bus routes.

Live shows one way streets.

image image Pretty darn close.
image image Google's high contrast character highlighting makes the street names much easier to read.
image image Live Search has better detail when fully zoomed in for this particular location.


Actual performance when scrolling and zooming is pretty comparable. Google generally seems a bit snappier at serving map tiles, but this slight prejudice could just be a carry over from other Google products.

While scrolling may be comparable, I find that the lack of dedicated on-screen Zoom buttons in Live Search to be a major drawback. Instead, to zoom in you need to click the center of the 4-way scroll button, and then switch to a different button to zoom in or out.

Although the Mogul has a thumbwheel, neither application makes use of this for zooming. Doh!


Down to the crux issue. How well can you search. A couple scenarios:

1. Great sushi place, Nishino's.

In Google Maps, on the front page, hit "Search", type in "Nishino's" and you get this sequence:




So the sequence is: Search >> Confirm Search results >> Tap for options giving address, reviews, phone, website.

In Live Search, press the "Speak" button and say "Nishino's" and (after two attempts at correct voice recognition) you get this sequence:




What? No web link? No reviews? Why are the directions, SMS, Save options at the bottom of the screen duplicated in the menu?

2. The Seattle institution Ivar's Restaurant.

In Google Maps, with Seattle in view, search for "Ivar's". You get:


So the current location isn't honored for some searches. Searching for "Ivar's Seattle", gives the much more reasonable result:


In "Live Search", with Seattle in view, press the Speak button and say "Ivar's" (or just type in "Ivar's"). You get:

image image

Note that Live Search keeps track of your current location and gives both commercial and residential listings.


The lack of on-screen zoom buttons makes Live Search a non-starter for me. It's just too frustrating to use a multi-key sequence for zooming.

Google's use of tapping on the pushpins to give additional details is really nice. You don't lose context of where you are in the application, whereas Live Search brings up a series of cascading search result dialogs that loop back on one another.

I didn't test Google's "My Location" feature which uses cell towers to triangulate your position, since it doesn't seem to be working in my location. All attempts result in: "Your current location is currently unavailable."

Using speech input for search terms is only partly successful in Live Search. While I'm often surprised at the quality of the recognition, you still need to switch over to using the stylus or keyboard to accept the search results, make additional menu choices, and interact with the map. Speech input works great in an application like Voice Commander since you can select a contact and make a call while driving without needing to touch the keyboard or look at the display. In Live Search, speech input saves you from typing search terms, but this benefit isn't offset by the complexity of switching between speech, keyboard, and stylus input modes.

So, Google Maps is the winner for this round.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Silverlight Firestarter

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2007.11.29.  Attended the Silverlight 1.0 Firestarter in Redmond.  The biggest news to me was an off the cuff comment by one of the presenters that the Silverlight 2.0 download size would "be about 4MB".  He also presented a roadmap slide taken from WPF showing 3D as a feature, but wouldn't commit to its availability in Silverlight 2.0.   Mix08 was the implied release venue.

Overall, the event seemed a bit subdued.  The conference room was only about 1/2 full, the audience and presenters not too enthusiastic.  I couldn't tell if this was due to the realization that the javascript based Silverlight 1.0 is soon to be upstaged by c#/DLR/CLR Silverlight 2.0, or if people were just skeptical of Microsoft's strategy overall.

The popfly demos were the coolest (we're already getting weary of orbiting images which seem to be central to most other current Silverlight demos).  I hadn't realized previously that a mashup block can have multiple inputs and multiple outputs.

Another favorite example is this Vista simulator: