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Friday, November 04, 2005

Yahoo Maps 2.0 (Beta) - First Impressions!

Yahoo Maps 2.0 (Beta) - First Impressions!

When Y! Maps was launched a few years ago, I was very fascinated with the detailed turn-by-turn information that it dished out, esp since I am extremely spatially challenged and can get lost driving home from work (I blame it on deep thoughts bouncing in my head, but...)! MapQuest didn't do much for me. And then along came Google, brushing aside all the competition with its AJAX-powered, simple, intuitive rendition of global maps! Since that day, I have not been on Yahoo maps again, until today.

With this new release, Y! has shaken up its maps application and enriched it with numerous new and useful features. Here is my first impression of Yahoo Maps 2.0 Beta.

The Good:

  • Page refreshes for every single action has traditionally frustrated users on Y!. GMaps showed why non-intrusion is key for a mapping application, esp when the user wants to move around, zoom-in and zoom-out. Y! has achieved this using Flash resulting in a much better user experience.

  • The most useful feature I liked was the ability to get directions to multiple locations on the same map. All these years, its been maps from Point A to B and back if necessary. I usually have more than one place to go, and would have to look them all up separately. Y! maps does a one-up on Google by throwing in this capability. Not only can I look up directions to n number of locations, but can also move the order of the locations around. Example: Assume I get directions from "Home" to "Best Buy" to "The Mac Store" to "Macy's" To "Groceries" and back to "Home" and my wife comes along to see the itinerary. Doubtless, I will have to move locations around (after a quick well-anticipated stare from her) so we get to Macy's and groceries before we venture anywhere else (if at all). With Y!Maps, I can just drag the locations around and the maps engine reworks the directions for me in no time. WOW!

  • It highlights sections of the path when the user mouses-over the directions. Some good thinking there for poor lost souls like me!

  • Category-based search has a good coverage and allows easy refinement of criteria.

  • Another big plus is the numerous APIs exposed. Provides developers multiple options to integrate mapping into their applications. It imposes similar terms (restrictions) as Google on developers.

The Bad:

  • Category search could have been simpler. Too many categories have been buried on a small panel on the left. Usability suffers as a result. Google does better on this front.

  • Ability to move locations around on the description/directions panel is real nice. It would have been better if it allowed the user to drag the whole text box around instead of just the "balloon".

  • The translucent bird's eye map with the zoom control should have been minimized by default so it didn't overlay on the main map.

  • It would have been good if the addresses collapsed when locations are moved around. Else it tends to fill up the directions panel pretty fast.

  • I am not sure what the "Live Traffic" option is for. It does nothing to the map. I must be missing something. Anyone know what it does?

The Ugly:

  • "Send to phone" only sends a link to the map. I would have liked to see step-by-step driving instructions in the message. Often times I call friends for directions. It would be so much simpler, if they could look up directions and text them to me via the "Send to phone" option.

  • I tried to add a smart keyword for Yahoo maps in Firefox, but was not able to. One, the URL doesn't show the parameters and so I can't use %s to set the keyword. Two, right-clicking in the directions field doesn't give me the "Add smart keyword" option. This is a big negative. I have "map" set up as my keyword for GMaps and can get to any place in an instant on GMaps (example: map 97209 or map pdx). Without smart keywords for Y!Maps, I will turn to it only if GMaps cannot get me to someplace (not happened in all the time I have used it) or if I am looking for directions to multiple locations.

  • Zooming could have been a lot better. It is jarring when it first zooms deep in a little more than required and then steps back a bit to settle at the required zoom level.

  • The tool-tips are redundant.

  • I know this is a beta, but they could have done better QA with it. I ran into some basic bugs in the locations panel with locations being duplicated, lost, etc.

A missing feature (I think) is the ability to look up directions to multiple locations from one central point, ie, A to B; A to C; A to D; A to E... Lets say I am planning a trip to the coast and I have 3-4 beaches to choose from. I would like to see, on one map, the paths to each of the end points so I can make an "intelligent" decision. Assuming, "Live Traffic" does what it is supposed to do, it would enhance my decisioning process! :)

I may have more bullets under Bad and Ugly, but some of these can be easily overcome or addressed thru minor fixes. Also, remember, this is a beta. Overall, IMHO, this is a real good response to GMaps and sets the tone for improvisations by the other players. Very good job Y!


At Thu Nov 10, 07:20:00 AM, Blogger Random Access said...

Nice comparison..Havent been free to take a they say..u r back with a bang ;)

Random Access
The search has just begun !!!


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