x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dubai to be Middle East’s first city with Google street view

Google plans to extend the service following the Dubai roll-out, with discussions under way with representatives from other emirates including Abu Dhabi and Ajman.

Coming to a Dubai street near you. A Google Street View car on display at Madinat jumeirah during the Goverment Summit. Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper
Coming to a Dubai street near you. A Google Street View car on display at Madinat jumeirah during the Goverment Summit. Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper

Dubai is set to become the first city in the Middle East to have street views added to Google’s online mapping service.

The search giant’s cars have been roaming the streets in recent months collecting image data on the streets of Dubai, with the data expected to go live “in the coming weeks”, said Maha Abouelenein, the head of Google’s Mena communications.

Google plans to extend the service farther across the country following the Dubai roll-out, with discussions under way with representatives from other emirates including Abu Dhabi and Ajman, she said.

No timing has been given for the extension of the service.

Google added images of Burj Khalifa to its online database last June, together with an inside glimpse of an Emirates A380, as part of its “Special Collect” programme.

This was followed in December by images of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

“We’re trying to get as many sites from the Middle East up online, as it shows the culture of the region and it shows people what’s happening here,” said Ms Abouelenein.

Google street views are currently available in about 3,000 cities worldwide, and cover some 6 million kilometres of roads.

The increased development of Middle Eastern online maps provides increased opportunities for local businesses, according to Peter Barron, Google’s communications head for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“In this region we’re still seeing a relatively low presence on our maps for businesses, for restaurants, cafes and so on,” he said.

“The opportunity across the region for travel and tourism is huge, but businesses have yet to fully take advantage.”

This was part of a wider trend of regional businesses being slow to tap the internet’s potential, he said.

“Something like two thirds of companies across the wider region don’t have a web presence and don’t think they need one,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge, but it’s also a huge opportunity for businesses to get themselves online.”

Mr Barron commended the Dubai government’s Smart City initiative, launched in October by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, for the increased provision of public services over smart devices.

Increasing the level of Arabic language content online was a key step in the process, he said.

“The take-up of mobile and services like YouTube is incredibly high, you see some of the highest rates in the world in this region. But the level of Arabic content at the moment doesn’t match that, so we’re working with the Government and with other partners to boost and encourage that.”

One such initiative is Duroosi, an online education portal launched in conjunction with Etisalat and the Ministry of Education in October, which offers a series of Arabic- language video tutorials aimed at grade 11 and 12 students.

The service has accumulated about 500 hours of video tutorials thus far, said Mr Barron.

jeverington@thenational.ae