I have played around with Google’s Street-View when it launched in the US more than a year ago. At the time, I wasn’t too impressed. The resolution of most photos was pretty low and aside from being a novel feature it was just that: a feature. Live Search’s bird-eye view gave me all I needed when it came to end-to-end navigation. That’s now all changed with the UK (and European) Street-View which launched yesterday.
The prime enabler is the resolution. It’s just amazing. It feels like Photosynth but transformed to the real world. It’s relatively easy to navigate the roads although there are a few UI glitches which hopefully should be fixed. The speed of loading the images, zooming in/out and navigating the map is excellent.
This launch enables users (and Google) to do things which were simply not possible before:
- Navigation with visual cues: just yesterday I tried to direct my partner to a certain location which her TomTom failed to find. I couldn’t do much to help her because I couldn’t see where she needed to go. With Street-View, I can now just look it up now and give her visual cues like “it’s just past the petrol station with the big red roof”.
- Looking for parking places: it’s just so much easier to know your surroundings with Street-View. Users can actually read the parking restrictions on the signs and decide whether to take the car or the tube.
- Checking the surroundings of hotels or restaurants: whenever we go to a new hotel or restaurant, I always want to check how they look from the outside. Users can now easily do it with Street-View as well as check whether the place is located on a noisy street with buses and traffic or on a quite one.
- Searching for a business’ phone number: some businesses simply do not have an online presence. My dry-cleaning place, for instance. But they do have a sign with a phone number and now I can simply ‘walk’ to the street and ‘look’ at their sign whilst still sitting next to my computer. Combine that with OCR, and Google is sitting on enormously valuable data. They can basically replenish their entire local directory by OCR-ing phone numbers, addresses and what not.
- Advertising local businesses: Google has not been able to monetise much other than search. That’s probably not going to change with Street-View but it does offer fantastic opportunities for monetization. Imagine a scenario of ‘walking’ the street and by clicking on a specific store being able to ‘enter’ its website, order products and the like. It’s Second Life turned into Real (First?) Life, a vision that only companies with access to this data could achieve.
All in all, Street-View has the potential of changing the way we navigate, find local information and probably shop online. It’s a killer-app for Google and a great news for users and consumers.