Today, there is a wide variety of mobile applications that use maps for different purposes. From our experience, we can say apps with a core functionality based on maps are in high demand and only gaining in popularity. In this article, we are going to analyze the particulars of different mapping services and explain how you can optimize costs thanks to choosing the most appropriate maps API for an on-demand app.
Guide to choose maps API: criteria to consider
If you want to build an app that will use maps, such as an app with a GPS tracker or an app for a taxi or delivery service, the first thing to do is to choose the maps system you plan to integrate.
While there is a wide range of such services, often very similar, some stand out from the crowd, depending on your parameters.
Before making a decision on what maps to use, whether it’s for a GPS tracker app or any other application, we recommend asking yourself (or your customers) the following questions:
- What type of app are you building, and will maps play a key role in it?
- How many devices/people are expected to use the app?
- Is there any necessity to customize maps, or is their standard view exactly what you want?
- Will location tracking be added to the app?
- Is it crucial for you to have free views? If yes, what number is required?
- Do you need to foresee scalability of your project already at the development stage? If yes, what capacities for scalability should be ensured?
Of course, sometimes developers don’t have any choice about the maps service they prefer, as a customer may have very specific requirements. However, today’s mapping platforms have a lot of capacity and many features that can be integrated. And developers can do almost everything with any service. The question to ask is whether it will be feasible to do this or that with the chosen maps, and how much time it will take.
Maps platforms: options
To help you better understand the particulars of different mapping services, we have prepared an overview of three services that today are considered as the most popular ones.
Google Maps: is it always a perfect choice?
Let’s start with the Google Maps platform, probably the best-known service of this kind today. Does it really deserve its popularity? Or do developers use it just because it’s a well-known name that people believe is trustworthy?
A lot of apps known and used all over the world are based on Google Maps. And you’ll certainly recognize the names of these apps, such as Bolt, TripAdvisor, and Uber. The popularity of this platform is quite explainable. For developers, it is simple to embed such maps into apps.
The platform has a very large database that contains practically all places in the world.
An important advantage of Google Maps is that all features commonly used in its web version are also available for mobile apps, including routing, street view, geocoding, information about places, etc.
If you don’t plan to build any complicated functionality (or are building just an MVP), Google Maps can be a good solution. The use of the map itself is free, but you will have to pay for additional features.
As for customization, options are limited; it may require some specific skills and knowledge from developers to customize these maps. You should also bear in mind that it is not an open-source API.
Mapbox API: pros and cons
Mapbox has attained a popularity comparable to that of Google Maps. Developers like this mapping service for its very simple integration with web and mobile applications. A long list of prominent apps use this platform, including Facebook and Shopify.
It is a very flexible service that you can use for integrating static as well as dynamic maps in your apps. Even if you need to work with complex analytical data, these maps will suit you. Though this service, like Google Maps, is not free, there are lots of options that you can use without paying an extra cent, especially if you want to create an app for a limited number of users. However, for larger projects, costs will not be low.
One of the primary benefits of Mapbox, according to developers, is easy customization of maps. There are ready-made templates of different styles of maps that you can choose for your application, making it more attractive for your target audience. Well-prepared, detailed documentation is another huge plus.
OpenStreetMap API: strengths and weaknesses
The first thing to be noted about this open-source mapping service is that it’s free. Without paying for it, you will get access to any data from the OpenStreetMap (OSM) database. However, before opting for this platform, you should know that it doesn’t allow getting real-time routing data for your apps. If you want to have that kind of functionality, you have no choice but to rely on third-party services like the above-mentioned Mapbox. Actually, this service is good if you are looking for a platform for map-editing purposes.
Though OpenStreetMap may seem a very attractive option, thanks to its zero-fee model, please bear in mind that it offers only a limited number of queries. And users can get blocked without prior notification if they make too many requests.
Furthermore, there is one issue that developers prefer to avoid. Documentation of OpenStreetMap is not complete at the moment, so it can be rather challenging to work with this API.
It’s also important to bear in mind that the OSM project is being built by volunteers, and at the moment it lacks a professional support service. However, you can join chats and forums where members of the OSM community can answer your questions.
The table below provides a comparison of the most important features of these three APIs.
What do developers prefer?
To ensure we’re giving you trustworthy information, we asked our leading developers to share their opinion on various map APIs available today.
The three we described above are just the most popular examples. For your project, you can opt for any alternative variant if it is feasible in your case.
But please, take into account three key factors:
- A maps API should have good documentation and support services, which will make it much more comfortable for your developers to work with maps and their functionality.
- A maps API should provide possibilities for the desired customization.
- It’s a good idea to ask your developers about their previous experience in working with any mapping services and take their answers into consideration. Though it’s possible for developers to learn how to work with any API, it is always much easier and faster to work with the one they’re already deeply familiar with. That helps keep development costs lower.
If these points are fulfilled, you can be sure that the built app will meet your requirements and expectations. Otherwise, the cost of the project and the time it takes to get it done may be significantly increased.
How a well-chosen maps API can optimize costs
The maps API you pick not only defines how your app will look, feel or function. It also defines the costs that you will have to pay for its support and maintenance. One of the projects that our IoT development team worked on is a perfect example of this.
Our client wanted to launch an app that would help to boost sales of their smart GPS collars for dogs. By the time the company turned to us, they already had a basic version of the app paired with the collar to track pets. But the app lacked some functionality and needed to be redesigned.
Initially, the app used the OpenStreetMap API, which didn’t allow for enriching the application with the full functionality that was desired. It was also quite expensive to support the app. Our team studied the situation and offered a solution that suggested using the Google Maps API instead.
After that, we successfully managed to integrate satellite and street maps, allowing users to track their dog’s movement in a map, camera or compass view. Now, the app also provides the ability to save routes and to share the location of a pet via email or SMS.
If you’re not satisfied with what you’re paying for your app support, isn’t it high time to change the situation? Share your pains with us! Our experts will analyze your case to offer the best solution for cost optimization.
Instead of a closing word
As you can see, there is no option that will be the best choice in all the scenarios. Frankly speaking, we also do not believe in “one-size-fits-all”solutions. The right choice of the maps API for an on-demand app depends on many factors.
Every case should be studied in detail before making a decision. That’s exactly what our team offers. If you have an idea of an app, or you have already started building your product and need professional help, do not hesitate to contact us. We are always ready to provide the necessary assistance.