Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bing Maps shows driving directions in Korea

Following up from my last post, I further explored Bing Maps coverage of Korea, and discovered that it provides driving directions in English for within Korea. This is a fairly big deal, as that makes Bing the only free mapping service I know of that can currently do this in English.

Google, of course, provides public transit directions in English, but does not provide driving routes in Korea (again, see here or here for reasons why that is). Naver and Daum of course provide both driving and public transport routes, but are limited to Korean-langauge only. So if you're planning a drive in Korea, and don't read hangul well, or simply find using English easier, try planning your journey in Bing Maps.

The downside is that the directions are confusing, as they only include turn-by-turn steps without the actual street names. You'll need to follow along very closely, clicking the text of each step to view the appropriate step on the map. This makes it most suitable for pre-planning a local, short-range drive. It would be very difficult to utilize this for a longer journey.

Let me show you what I mean.

Bing Maps driving directions in Korea

Last time we visited Lotte World, so let's plan a drive from Lotte World in Seoul down to popular Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장) in Busan.

See this route for yourself on Bing here.

Bing Maps driving directions

Bing correctly identified my origin and destination, and planned an accurate driving route. The problem is, you'll notice, that the step-by-step turn directions are very vague. "Right turn, 0.3 miles" is useful, but really only so if I know onto which road to turn.

Bing Maps driving directions

Clicking that instruction ("Right turn, 0.3 miles") will show you the maneuver on the map, which gives you an idea of what to do, and shows that that right turn should be onto Olympic-ro. But having to do this with every single step makes it inefficient for all but the shortest journeys.

Other services compared

We can contrast Bing's offerings with those of the other major portals.

Naver Maps driving directions

Daum Maps driving directions

Interestingly, both Naver and Daum predict a travel time of exactly 4 hours 42 minutes. Bing gave 4:21 and 4:35. Make of that what you will. Unlike the Bing directions, you can see in the Naver image the step-by-step route guide includes the names of the streets, as is expected. In Daum you would see the same after clicking the arrow to expand.

Side note: You can see in the Daum imagery that Olleh Navigation (올레 내비) is also an option. This is a full turn-by-turn navigation app [Android / iOS] that is quite popular in Korea, and functions similarly to the Google Maps "Navigation" feature in other countries. Unfortunately it's only available in Korean. You can see it in action here, but personally I find it a bit distracting to be yelled at by a robotic Korean female voice when I miss the proper turn.
There are other choices for full nagivation apps that work in Korea. Check this Reddit post for popular suggestions, including the also popular 김기사 [Android / iOS] app.

How about Google? It's interface is available in English, but of course, no driving directions. So what does it offer?

Google Maps transit directions

Google Maps flights

Google does show public transit routes with English descriptions, while the stations and lines are in Korean, but no driving routes. Surprisingly, it also recommended a flight!

Overall, it's nice to see Bing being a pioneer in offering free English mapping in Korea. Over at the official Bing blog, they talk about the process for elaborating and detailing these updated maps:
We’ve integrated a full stack of services for our users, including address geocoding (both new and old address formats), business search, as well as directions and traffic. Notice the high level of detail within the maps. You can see just about every amenity within Korea including building footprints, landmarks on the map and even soccer fields! [Bing Blogs]
The generous English labeling on its maps, and English driving directions, are great, but I'm not sure how ultimately useful it is right now. Still, it's worth checking out, and I hope they continue to expand their offerings.

Update: And they have! Bing Maps now includes real-time traffic conditions for Korea.

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