Choosing the most suitable map for your app

Alexei Falco /
 on 19 November 2018

It may seem that, since a map is an additional feature and comes in many forms, the choice of a proper map for your mobile application is a piece of cake. Different maps will be suitable for different platforms, i.e. Google Maps would do great on Android platform.

But despite the seeming simplicity of choice, there are a few rules that may help to make the right choice. Let’s go step by step and, eventually, reach the perfect outcome.

Part 1: The app itself

App functionality

Before getting down to the service choice, outline the core functionality of your app and the main reason why you will need a map for it. One app may just need an app to show a route to a nearby store, while the other app will be all about the coordinates and building the route.

It is obvious that for the first example a simple map would be enough, while the second one requires more advanced service.

Other important things:

  • Mode of work: online, offline or both

  • Opportunity to add user’s data on the map

  • Smartphone power and necessity for powerful maps

If the map serves as a major part of your app, make sure to find a reliable provider so that he will take care of the whole infrastructure.

Location

Your app is intended for a user and thus, you have to put the user first before fancy design and provider’s reputation.

Say, you are developing an app for the users from a small town. Before rushing to integrate Google Maps, compare different providers and see, which ones represent the required area the best.

It may happen that not so well known providers represent your desired area better and in more details than their bigger competitors do. So it would make sense to save a bit of money and use the map that would better correspond to the needs of your users.

Type of the app

The majority of maps in the market support both iOS and Android platforms so you should have no difficulties getting an API for the desired map.

However, in some cases for the native app, you may need to find specific specialists: Java/Kotlin for Android and Objective-C/Swift for iOS.

Part 2: The provider

Below are the most popular map services, which we consider the most efficient and worth paying attention to.

Google Maps

This web mapping service was developed by Google, obviously, and offers not only street maps but also 3600 panoramic view, real-time traffic conditions and an option to plan your route.

For developers, Google is a treasure box: it has all sorts of code examples, libraries, and SDKs. It even offers an API picker tool, in case a developer does not know what kind of interface he needs.

This summer, Google introduced its Google Maps Platform. The service contains 18 tools under 3 categories: “Maps”, “Places” and “Routes”. The service offers two payment options: a monthly fee of $200 or billing based on the use of the service by large-scale organizations. Here you can see the billing breakdown.

Yandex Maps

Yandex MapKit service is somewhat close to Google Maps Platform and allows integration of maps into iOS and Android apps. The maps can work both offline and online, which is, to be honest, is really awesome.

The service includes a huge variety of features and is clear about the payment and billing. It allows integrating almost any part of Yandex Maps within your app, which is another convenient feature to customize your app.

And the cherry on top is the fact that Yandex MapKit can be used either for free – but there is a limit for the overall amount of queries in the free payment model. As for the paid version, there is a standard and a premium one, and they differ in the number of queries, app functionality, and scalability.

OpenStreetMap

The OSM Wiki is an open-source service that’s been getting really popular in the last couple of years. It’s different from the others because the database is filled by the users themselves – they contribute to it in the same way as to the Wikipedia.

The main goal of OSM contributors is filling in the map points with the useful info. The map may lack in design but it will feature bicycle routes or local points of interest in specific areas, which may be quite useful for certain apps.

Because these maps are free, they may have limits for the number of queries per second. And overall, they are not 100% reliable from a technical point of view.

Mapbox

Mapbox provides online maps to a variety of websites and applications and is often called the most rapidly growing cartographic service. Mapbox was created as a solution for the limited choice that map providers offered and since then has been gaining popularity.

The service obtains the data from both open data sources (i.e. OpenStreetMap) and NASA, as well as from proprietary sources (i.e. DigitalGlobe).

Same as the services above, Mapbox can come free if the amount of queries does not exceed 50K. Otherwise, you will be billed in accordance with the number of queries for a certain period of time, plus other factors – see all the billing information here.

Here

This geolocation platform was designed by Nokia and provides a satisfactory coverage of the areas. However, in some countries it does not perform very well, so you should check the map in your targeted region.

However, Here is a good service for drivers and logistic services. Its maps are installed in Audi and BMW cars and the service was used to work on the autopiloting systems.

One of the biggest advantages of Here is the 90-days trial period, which does not require any payment info from the user (unlike Google). As for the paid version, Here works by freemium model, which is described here.

The Aftermath

The choice of the map provider depends on the following critical factors:

  • The goal of your app

  • App functionality

  • Your budget

  • Location of your target audience

  • Map coverage of the required areas

To put it simple, complex and large maps like Google or Yandex will have a lot of features but may take too long to load and the price may be too high. Smaller providers may not perform so well globally, but can excellently cover certain areas and regions while coming at a modest price.

Authored by  Alexei Falco /
Co-founder of Celadon Software House, manager of projects, has over 8 years of business management and entrepreneurship experience.

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