China officially launches own online mapping service
By Zou Le
China formally launched its self-developed Internet mapping service Tuesday with added features and improved services after the website underwent over three months of trial runs.
Called Map World, the product enables viewers to see 3D versions of flat maps in addition to providing regular mapping and locating services as Google Earth does.
"The running of Map World's beta version has been going very well," Min Yiren, deputy director of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM), said at the launch ceremony in Beijing, adding that over 30 million users have tried the service, which is available on tianditu.cn, the map's website.
Map World is provided by the National Geomatics Center of China under the SBSM. Companies need to pay to use the service for commercial purposes, but the public can use it for free.
Min said new features have been added to the product and the system data has been updated since the beta version came out, including the addition of English names to locations worldwide, the revision of county and city names in over 40 places nationwide, and the provision of route directions and travel time calculations.
However,high-resolution images are only available for locations within Chinese borders while other places can only be viewed as high altitude pictures with a resolution of 500 meters, and many nations appear blank when users zoom in.
"The creation of China's own mapping service provides a good opportunity for Chinese enterprises to develop value -added services and drive the development of relevant industries," Min said.
Figures from Analysys International showed that the total revenue of China's online map market rose from 245 million yuan ($36 million) in 2008 to 330 million yuan ($50 million) in 2009.
At the same time, authorities have also tightened controls and announced in May that online mapping service providers that fail to obtain licenses to operate legally will be shut down.
In response to a reporter's question on whether Google had applied for a license before the application deadline was due in March, Song Zhichao, another deputy director of SBSM, did not give a direct answer but said, "China's Internet market is open and free and those who conduct online mapping services in China should abide by Chinese law."
Over 100 companies have obtained licenses while another 100 are in the process of submitting applications, Song said.