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5 things to know before choosing digital maps API: Google Maps Vs Mapbox explained.

By jwork 27th March 2015


The on demand economy is no longer a fad. It is here, there, everywhere! This is not a sudden change, but one that has happened, and still happening gradually, powered by the collusion of numerous factors that have all come together to make our life easier – one tap to get everything under the sun, at your door. Indeed, sounds like a genie!

While sometime ago this was a sole prerogative of the wealthy, many concurrent developments are democratizing services and enabling entrepreneurs to create marketplaces providing these services at an affordable cost. Some of these developments being mobilization of technology, ability to leverage excess and idle capacity to supply these services and venture capital infusion in the on demand and aggregation marketplace based startups.

Take maps for instance. Throughout human history, map-making had been a painstakingly detailed, human-intensive process. The advent of high-resolution satellite imagery, detailed public records, and increasingly accurate data from GPS and crowdsourced information has helped businesses offer a wide array of products & services that weren’t up for offer earlier. Truly, digital maps have changed how we perceive this world!

Here are the three factors that have enabled the on demand economy through mapping tech and allowed businesses to offer greater value!

The real time updates on map view of both the service provider’s location and the job status, as well as customer’s location have made the whole process transparent. Knowing fully well, the status of the job or the service provider has added to the customer’s delight!

Optimized Routes
Businesses can now calculate the shortest routes for delivery, or the cost associated with such a job, all at the tap of a button! All of this has liberated businesses and made instantaneous estimates of such metrics possible.

When customers can see the service/provider live on a mapview approaching their location, along with an ETA on their pointer, it sure gives them a reassurance that most businesses failed to offer! After all, Dominos did manage to reinvent the pizza business with the 30 min delivery choice.

All factors quoted above have collectively contributed to make the whole delivery experience delightful for customers getting everything on demand.

For a detailed coverage of above features, and taking a dive into how technology makes it possible, I’m gonna ask you  to read on till the last section.

Mapping technology has come a long way to create impeccable use cases, wherein customization is seeing newer heights and every industry is finding newer ways to use this advancement to their benefit. With the evolution of this industry, Google and the likes have come up with slew of other services that complement the maps in immensely useful methods. Google Places, for instance, is one such service that enables customers to know the surrounding places that can serve as landmarks for identification; no wonder why putting places on the maps was a wonderful idea.


How do Google and Mapbox compare?

Google has done a wonderful job in cartography. Back in 2004, when they first acquired Where 2 technologies, mapping industry was still nascent. In 2009, Google first announced navigation for android, and entered the league of map quest and the likes. However, recently Google lowered the number of free API hits that a mobile/web application can harness, thus impacting businesses. Statistically, they say, only 0.35% of the total businesses onboard shall get affected.

The Google Maps API offers 25,00 map loads per day free of cost. Earlier, a user was charged variable amount per 1000 map loads, subject to the API, and depending on the level of customization in the maps. As per the latest update from Google (effective September 2015), the pricing has been revised. Now, anyone using Google Maps API gets 2500 map views free and beyond that, he is charged $0.50 USD per 1,000 additional requests up to 100,000 requests per API per day. If you have larger requirements, then you need to contact Google Maps team for a licence.

However, Mapbox offers 50,000 views/month, for $50 with 3 custom styles.

Mapbox built its tech on OpenMapStreet data, and customization is its core strength. Mapbox has a map editor, that goes by the name TileMill and has a very easy to use interface. For $50 a month, users get access to their library of predefined maps, as well as ability to upload three custom styles.

Google has access to huge data streams that no ordinary company can afford access to. For instance, ETA is a function of numerous variables like terrain information, average speed data, real time traffic data, weather etc, which is why, it is more accurate for Google than Mapbox. Further, OpenStreetMaps does not have a robust database for developing countries, say Israel or India, such that the information displayed on 4th or 5th zoom level are insufficient. Usually, its strength in developed countries is urban locale and rarely the terrain outside it.

No wonder, Uber built its own algorithm for calculating ETA, and improved it by a factor of 3.6 over what Google had to offer!

Associated Services
Google and the likes have built a wide array of services that come with Google maps API, such as Places, Business, Streetview, Satellite Imagery etc, all of which enhance the map’s usability, something, Mapbox and the likes cannot do as of now.

Mapbox focuses on an open platform and customizable maps by default. It uses OpenStreetMap Data, and integrates back with other open source software and media, in order to liberate customization. It offers a map editor, TileMill, which is powered by Mapnik(fonts, colors) and Carto. On the contrary, Google offers some great APIs such as Autocomplete, Places etc. along with predictions powered by zillion bytes of data.


Components of Digital Mapping

Having seen the difference in two leading service providers for digital maps, it suffices to say that maps have changed the world for good, and are commonly known to customers through some features as discussed below. These features are available to businesses  and limited by number of API hits that an application can request for service from Google servers. For every parameter mentioned below, google has an available number of free API hits as can be seen here.

Expected Time of ArrivalTracking
The name says it all! This feature has empowered businesses to offer services with an unparalleled precision in time before the service or product arrives, something that sure delights the users.

Real Time Tracking
Real time tracking of both the customer and the service provider has enabled transparency in business processes and created a sense of certainty for users- certainty/transparency/security

Turn by turn navigation
The ETAs for today’s businesses have become unrealistically small. One reason being that drivers can get directions to pick up and drop off locations.

Routing applications have affected the ETA drastically. With access to traffic information, road type, and average speed limits, it has become easier than ever to predict the shortest possible routes for fastest delivery. Cost can be calculated easily, on a case to case basis for all businesses offering on demand service or a product, using distance on maps.

Off site services
Businesses are gradually accepting the capitalists forces behind the on demand economy and looking to offer offsite services, a lot of which became possible due to advancement in mapping technology.

Holistically , Geo-positioning is a function of several factors, some more important than others. To manage contingencies, such as unavailability of a viable signal, a three level fallback process is implemented for getting a GPS lock on the device.

In principal, the location of the user is known using reverse geocoding, wherein users’ current location coordinates(latitude, longitude) are matched in the database of geospatial information, and users’ current physical address on the map is returned. However, in the event of failure to get such information, maps would usually reflect the position of your nearest tower of the cellular network you’re logged in. In cases when both fail, user’s last known location is used de facto.

Thus, a combination of above mechanisms are used to determine user’s location in any mobile app, even when on a slow internet/cellular network.

Having decided the choices between google maps and Mapbox, and how to use it, here’s a brief case study analyzing one our clients, an on demand meal delivery platform, BiteKite, based out of Boston which faced a similar problem, and how we helped them resolve it.

To learn more about how Juggernaut helped BiteKite implement digital maps in the on demand meal delivery platform, download our case study:
If you are planning to start something or looking for a technology partner for a solution that you are already working on, do get in touch and we’d be happy to assist you.

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