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Bing gets modest face-lift, task improvements

As part of a wave of updates, Microsoft's Bing has gotten a handful of modest features that aim to improve the look, feel, and functionality of the Web search tool.

Bing logo

SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft is making Bing easier on the eyes, and hopefully easier to use.

At the Bing Search Summit here at Microsoft's downtown San Francisco offices, the company unveiled a more visual way to search for things like music, events, movies, and images from its search results, as well as improvements to the things people are able to do from Bing's results page and the Bing mobile app.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft's senior vice president of research and development, went into detail on how much effort the Bing team puts into making the search engine more aesthetically pleasing. That includes 400 "unique visual experiences" built into Bing, each of which gets served up based on the action.

Those actions are broken down into the things people want to do when they search for things. In order of importance, that's music, clothing and shoes, consumer electronics, recipes, home furnishings, and movies that are no longer in theaters. Nadella said the Bing team then delves into what people do once they start searching for each of these items to figure out how it can serve up results in a more efficient manner. For something like movies that means you get show times, as well as rankings from places like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Microsoft has also cleaned up its image search, adding things like infinite scrolling, and something called smart tabs, which is a set of related image searches that sit on the top of the page. Clicking these begins another image search without taking you off the page:

Bing's enhanced image search.
Bing's enhanced image search. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Another improvement to the results pages involves a partnership with Fansnap to help people get things like concert or game tickets. So say you're searching for an upcoming basketball game at a local stadium. Bing will now serve up a stadium map, and a listing of the tickets you can buy, straight from the results:

Ticket sales inside of Bing search results.
Ticket sales inside of Bing search results. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Microsoft also detailed advances in its integration of Facebook as part of Bing search results. In the next month or so, Bing will feature Facebook likes underneath results, so that you can see which of your friends liked a result. Unlike previous efforts, which would just highlight items friends had liked, Paul Yiu, Bing's group program manager, said that Bing is now changing the rankings based on these annotations.

That change in ranking has also been utilized to highlight people search results, so that if you're searching for someone, Bing can filter those results based on the network of people it knows you know. Yiu said this should go a long way toward helping users find the right person if they have a common name.

Beside's Bing's search page, Microsoft demoed the new version of its Bing Maps product which uses Ajax instead of Silverlight, which is going out to users beginning today. Bing Maps' architect Blaise Aguera y Arcas explained that while the vast majority of the features have been able to be ported over to the new system, Silverlight will still be needed to use Bing's map applications tools for its computational tools.

Bing Maps has also partnered with Everyscape to add in-line panoramas for business listings. In the same vein, the Bing mobile application can now let users make their own panoramas in a similar style to Occipital's 360 Panoramic app. These can then be uploaded to Microsoft's Photosynth site:

Making a panorama in Bing's iPhone app.
Making a panorama in Bing's iPhone app. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

That's not the only new trick to come to the Bing app though. Microsoft is also bringing along its Streetside technology, which lets users take a virtual, first-person walk around city streets:

Microsoft's Streetside is coming to its Bing mobile app.
Microsoft's Streetside is coming to its Bing mobile app. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

The Streetside view gets a special trick within the mobile app so that you can zoom out even further than you're able to on the desktop iteration. This, Aguera y Arcas explained, was to make it easier to get a broader look at a neighborhood you might be unfamiliar with and see its landmarks.

Other additions to the mobile app include geo-fencing, real-time public transit schedules that will let users do a search for the next bus or train nearby or as part of a directions query, and a new visual search tool that makes use of your phone's camera. This identifies words and lets you tap them to begin a query:

Word search on Bing.
Bing's mobile application is getting a new search tool that lets you pick out specific words from a photo. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

These features, as well as the ones being made to Bing's browser search are being rolled out over the new few weeks.