Yesterday, Yahoo launched a new beta version of Yahoo! Maps. This new version is a significant improvement over their previous version – the interface has been upgraded and plenty of new features have been added.

The new interface is very application-centric and the default text form has been replaced with a huge map with a form to the left side.

Drop down menus combined with easy to find search boxes improve usability. The navigation can be collapsed for a bigger view of the map. The visual map is draggable.

In the upper right corner of the visual map there is a smaller inset map that shows the surrounding area. To the right of the inset map are the zoom controls.

One feature I really like is the live traffic overlay. With this feature, you can tell how fast traffic is moving and which roads have accidents.

Yahoo has placed default categories on the left hand side to help users find what they want faster. There are links to services (atms/gas stations/groceries), shopping, entertainment, restaurants, and travel (tourist spots, transportation, hotels).

You can choose to save locations for future searches. One of the more useful features is the new Multi-point driving directions. Now you can map from point A to B to C on one map. The directions are color coded, so they are very easy to follow.

Yahoo! Local has been integrated into the map search, so in addition to directions/address information, you can access ratings/reviews/events.

Some interface features have been added that really make it easy to use Yahoo! Maps. For instance, you can drag a drop a locations address from the map popup into the address form, making it quick and easy to get the directions. No need to retype the info into the form. Map locations can be toggled to display or not display, this way you can clean up the clutter if you want to print a map.

To coincide with the new beta, Yahoo has released a new maps API. The new API has support for both Flash and AJAX presentation models. Several new APIs have been added including geocoding, traffic information, map images, and local search. The Simple Maps API is still allowing developers to plot locations on Yahoo Maps with no rate limits.

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