Confusion and clarification on the end of Bing Maps 3D

It started with a post this morning on the Bing Maps blog (well really started last night when Bing Maps developers were alerted to the upcoming changes via email): an announcement on the end of Bing Maps 3D, and an upcoming release of Birds Eye “everywhere”, an AJAX version of Bird’s Eye that will work without Silverlight.  Things got a little out of hand from there, so let’s recap.

Currently, Bing Maps comes in 3 flavors: the “classic” Bing Maps, a new AJAX version powered by Silverlight (which you can reach from the classic view if you have Silverlight installed), and Bing Maps 3D (available from the classic, but not Silverlight version after installing the ActiveX control), a downloadable plugin that runs a 3D version of Bing Maps.  Today’s announcements were twofold, first, that a soon to be released new version of Bing Maps will bring the same enhanced Birds Eye functionality currently offered in the Silverlight version to all Bing Maps users, without any kind of a plugin (Silverlight, ActiveX, or any other), and at scale:

Today we announce progress on that front with the forthcoming release of a new “Bird’s eye” – the same 45-degree perspective, viewable from all 4 compass directions imagery that you love, enhanced to include seamless, smooth zooming/panning, life-like building models in urban centers and 3D-like terrain features.

The new Bird’s eye previewed in our Silverlight client last year, but what makes this message special is that, very soon, it will be made available without plug-ins and at scale in both our AJAX map control and the Bing.com/maps website.

Along with that, the Bing Maps blog post went on to say that Bing Maps 3D is being discontinued:

As a consequence, we are also announcing that we will be discontinuing investment in the Bing Maps 3D control plug-in. We don’t normally pre-announce new features or big changes; but, we want to make sure current 3D Maps users receive a heads-up rather than spring it unannounced. When the next update to Bing.com/maps is launched in the upcoming weeks, the option to view 3D Maps will be removed. Current users of 3D Maps can expect the following:

  1. Permalinks and the desktop shortcut to 3D Maps will be redirected to Bing Maps with the nearest match to the experience they had in 3D. In most cases this will result only in a loss of the ability to navigate in full 3D.
  2. After opening collections with 3D models, the 3D models will be represented as pushpins only. The models will not be accessible from collections.
  3. Permalinks to tours will now open the collection manager with a message indicating discontinued support of the feature. Unfortunately there will no longer be an option to view the tour.

Our good friend Tom Warren on his new blog WinRumours picked up on the post, and initially indicated that the Silverlight version of Bing Maps was being “discontinued”, which wasn’t true and which he corrected after some outcry from his commenters, who may have seen his post on Techmeme:

winrumours-bing-maps_thumb Bing

The Bing Maps blog then clarified:

Update @ 3:30: Because there’s been confusion on this announcement, we want to make clear that this announcement was around the end of life of the 3D Map control. 3D Maps is not based on Silverlight and this announcement has nothing to do with our commitment to Silverlight. We continue to invest in Silverlight functionality, which delivers the richest possible experience for our users – specifically through our map apps that run in the browser on the PC and the Silverlight map control for Windows Phone 7 applications.

But aside from the unfortunate confusion, the news boils down to this: the grand Bing Maps 3D experiment is over, or will be soon, as Bing Maps developers are being given until December 2011 to update their controls, but Bing Maps will soon be updated with more Birds Eye “everywhere” goodness.  The Silverlight version is not going away, and will continue to provide an enhanced viewing experience, although how different it will be from the AJAX version, and how much further development the Silverlight version will receive, we’ll have to wait and see.