Google Maps South Africa launches new features

Today Jaroslav Bengl, the Business Product Manager for Google Switzerland GmbH, presented a developer overview of Google Maps features released in South Africa just yesterday.

As of yesterday, the South African Google Maps has driving directions, reverse geocoding ("what is near this coordinate"), and overlays for terrain elevation, photos, Wikipedia, Panoramio, and public transit routes. Google Street View cars are surveying Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and East London - and the street view should be ready before the World Cup.
Here is a view of the Koeberg Interchange which now has directional arrows used by the route finders:

All the effort is indeed in preparation for the World Cup, for the sake of all the tourists who have become accustomed to driving directions and complete road networks in the Google Maps of their own countries. Jaroslav says South Africa is getting driving directions and street view ahead of even some European countries and cities.

Google no doubt is paying a lot of license money for access to complete and up-to-date road network data, and we have the Fifa 2010 World Cup to thank for pushing us up the list of priorities.  However, for the last few years as a Google Maps backwater, there were some people working to fill in the SA road networks and directions, namely the GPS-equipped volunteers at OpenStreetMap, who even took the trouble to mark on OpenStreetMap the changes to the Koeberg Interchange that are under construction:


On the Google Maps API side of things, the geocoding API (address->latitude/longitude) is now also available in South Africa, and the search box supports mixed languages: searching for "cape town ショッピング" where the second word is Japanese for "shopping" works as expected. However, "레스토랑 cape town" where the first word is Korean for "restaurant" brings up hotels instead.   There are many APIs for overlaying your own data on Google Maps, for example using a public KML feed. The terms of service require in any case that apps using the free Google Maps API themselves be free and open to the public.

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