The release of version 6.1 of the Microsoft Virtual Earth API has been announced on the Virtual Earth / Live Maps blog (with more details from from VE evangelist Chris Pendleton). Although it's a minor release number there's a variety of useful new capabilities in the service and its API. Some of the highlights are:
- Better 3D rendering for certain cities, starting with Las Vegas, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix, and extending ultimately to 250 cities. For instance, take a look at Cesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip displayed in 3D and in Bird's eye view.
- New walking directions, available via the API
- The option for traffic-based routing, which optimizes driving directions optimized based on current traffic conditions. For example: directions between an office in Berkeley and the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, accounting for traffic
To get a sense of how Microsoft's new features compare to those in Google maps, compare different views of the main building of the New York Public Library:
- Google street view
- Virtual Earth -- 3D looking straight down
- Virtual Earth -- 3D from an angle
- Virtual Earth -- Bird's eye
Go to http://maps.live.com/ and them out features out.
As noted on Techcrunch, one of the most interesting features is the deeper support for KML in Virtual Earth. Microsoft Live Maps will take the URL for a KML file (such as those from Google My Maps) and display the point. For instance, you can use Yahoo! Pipes to extract the locations and convert a RSS feed to a KML feed. For instance, pass the NY Times International Section RSS feed to a location extracting Yahoo! Pipe to generate a KML feed. For a while now, you've been able to display KML feeds using Google Earth or Google Maps, and now, by using the mapurl parameter, you can use Live Maps to also display the KML feed.
As a developer, don't forget one of the best learning tools around for any mapping API -- the The Virtual Earth Interactive SDK as well as the source documentation at Microsoft Virtual Earth. And for more examples of what's being built on the VE API, see the 140 Virtual Earth mashups listed here.