Developers prefer Apple's iOS Maps SDK over Google Maps

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
An in depth comparison of the development frameworks behind Apple's Maps and Google's finds pros and cons in both, but highlights Apple's as more mature, less limited and recommended for most third party app developers.

Apple's Maps: new, different and? more mature?

When Apple launched its own new Maps in iOS 6, many observers compared the new app negatively against the existing Maps app of iOS 5, unaware that both shared much of the same plumbing.

The "new" iOS 6 Maps replaced Google's mobile maps as the source of its mapping data and search features; Apple's loss of Google's server-side expertise in mapping meant that the new iOS 6 Maps introduced some obvious and problematic location errors and downgraded its search efficiency and accuracy in ways that were impossible for users to miss.

These flaws were obvious enough to sap much of the excitement away from the novel features that Apple had added to Maps, including 3D perspective with building models, Flyover for adding depth to satellite views (depicted above) and turn by turn navigation.

While many reviews of iOS 6 complained about the new Maps app, developers had a different initial expectation: rather than seeing negative changes on the client end, they looked forward to positive changes on the back end.

That's because the new iOS 6 Maps retained the maturity of Apple's Map Kit software development kit (SDK), which Apple had refined over the last five years of iOS. This SDK is used by third party developers to incorporate map features into their own apps.

Prior to iOS 6, Apple's Map Kit helped developers to integrate Google's mapping data into their products. After the launch of its own mapping services with iOS 6, Apple's SDK shifted the entire iOS app market to using Apple's own maps rather than Google's, but its underlying feature set actually improved.

After the surprise launch of iOS 6 Maps, first announced at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference last summer, Google scrambled to bring two products to market: a standalone iOS Google maps app for consumers to use as an alternative to Apple's, but also a new Maps API for iOS developers in order to compete for attention among developers who incorporate maps into their apps.

"Enormous advantages" of Apple Maps SDK

A new report by Michael Grothaus of Fast Company profiles the experiences of two UK developers in integrating support for the rival Map SDKs of Apple and Google in their own apps, noting that Apple's maturity, completeness and unlimited all offer "enormous advantages" over Google.

Unsurprisingly, Apple's more than five years of experience in refining iOS' developer frameworks for working with map data give it a strong edge over Google's brand new SDK.

Among the SDK features that Google lacks in comparison to Apple's Map Kit is support for "map markers, polylines, and overlays," the report noted, explaining, "Tiled overlays are common in apps to display a layer of information, such as weather, crime, and even earthquake data, over a map."



Lee Armstrong, developer of the flight tracking app Plane Finder (shown above), was cited as noting, "we can?t do some of our more advanced features in Plane Finder like gradient polylines, chart overlays, or smooth moving planes with animations. We have some complex tiled overlays in Plane Finder: These are aviation charts that actual pilots use (shown below). With the Google Maps SDK these tiled overlays are just not possible right now.?

Other features unique to Apple Maps SDK

Bryce McKinlay, a developer behind the London transit app Tube Tamer (below), specifically noted the sophistication Apple's Map Kit provides in creating animated, draggable markers, something that's currently impossible to do with Google's SDK.



Apple has used animated, draggable markers in Maps since Steve Jobs first demonstrated "pin drops" to locate multiple search results for Starbucks at the 2007 debut of iPhone (just before clicking one to place a crank call from the Macworld Expo stage; below, starting at 4:50).



"The fact that annotations in Map Kit are UIViews also means that animation and other effects can be applied easily using Core Animation, which isn't currently possible with the Google Maps SDK approach"In contrast, McKinlay explained that Google's iOS maps SDK requires that markers must be configured in advance with static images, adding "this is less flexible and less efficient for apps with a large number of markers."

McKinlay also added, "The fact that annotations in Map Kit are UIViews also means that animation and other effects can be applied easily using Core Animation, which isn't currently possible with the Google Maps SDK approach."

Other handy features unique to Apple's Map Kit is "follow user location" and "follow with heading" modes. McKinlay explained this "automatically moves the map to follow the user's location, and rotates the map according to the compass heading," adding that "this is very helpful for pedestrian navigation. It is possible to implement this manually in Google?s SDK, but it adds extra development time/effort."

Apple Map Kit SDK offers better performance than Google's

McKinlay also pointed out that "the current version of the [Google] SDK does not perform as well as Map Kit. [Google's] GMSMapView's frame rate is capped at 30fps, which is lower than typical for iOS and results in a slight but noticeable ?jitter? effect when panning and zooming the map. "Drawing of labels and POIs sometimes lags behind if you pan quickly, even on a fast device like the iPhone 5.?

Armstrong observed similar issues in Plane Finder after creating versions of the app to use either Apple?s maps or Google?s. ?Overall," he stated, "the Apple maps feel nice and work really smoothly, even with thousands of planes plotted simultaneously.?"The Apple maps feel nice and work really smoothly, even with thousands of planes plotted simultaneously."

Because Google's Maps for iOS are so new, it experiences "a lot of crashing," Armstrong said. "This is getting better with each release but we needed a fallback to users contacting support. Apple Maps are also much faster as there are methods that allow geospatial queries to the map to get at certain data very quickly, these are not in Google Maps yet so there is a definite lag to the Google Map for us.?

Apple's Map Kit more mature, easier to use, more likely to stick around

Apple has been working on Map Kit for the last five years, and there's a experienced, sizable community build around using it. This ecosystem of users is useful in helping other developers to work through issues as they run into them.

Armstrong noted "the immediate benefit of Map Kit is that it is very easy to drop in some code to your app and that it is a very mature API."

He added, ?the Map Kit maturity is important to us because there is a great resource of websites, forums, and peers to turn to if you have any issues. Because it is a very commonly used API there are a lot of people to turn to. We have used Apple themselves to help out with some issues. With Google Maps there are only a small numbers of developers pioneering implementation so we don?t get this.?

McKinlay added, "Because it's built in to the iOS SDK, it's quick and easy to get up and running. Adding a map to an app can be as simple as dragging and dropping it into a view in Xcode's Interface builder. And because it's part of the iOS SDK, apps using Map Kit will most likely keep working with future versions of iOS with little or no effort on the part of the developer."

The report also added that "Apple?s Maps work across most iOS devices and iOS versions with little effort needed from the developer."

Google's maps SDK neither freely open nor free for unlimited use

Google's Android is often described as offering a free and open alternative to Apple, but its Maps SDK is neither of these. The SDK is closed source that's proprietary to Google, and any developers that use it to add Google Maps to their own apps must incorporate the code into their app, wasting storage space on the device.

Apple's Map Kit is part of iOS, so every third party app that uses it shares the same code, rather than packaging a copy of it in each app installed on a device.

More problematically, Google enforces limits on the number of map transactions third party developers can use, and the company requires a valid credit card on file for developers to access its mapping APIs.

"If you run out of quota," McKinlay stated, "they just start denying requests for the rest of the day, which breaks your app--which leads to angry users. You can of course ask them nicely and hope that they'll raise your quota--but all of this is stuff you don't need to worry about with the Apple API," which has no limits on location search transactions.

Developers don't have to pick one mapping SDK

Due to the strengths and weaknesses of each, some developers might want to use both, as Armstrong does in Plane Finder, although he said he doesn't really recommend that approach.

After running into serious issues at the launch of Apple Maps related to missing and incorrectly placed map labels, Armstrong saw his app plunge from five stars down to three in App Store ratings. "Twenty percent of our daily support emails were also on this issue," he noted.

But moving to Google Maps wasn't a straightforward panacea. In addition to being slower and buggier, the missing features in Google's SDK meant that "the [app] features we would have to remove would take our app back a year or so in development and we would also have a backlash from our user base."

Moving to Google's SDK, or implementing in in parallel with Apple's Map Kit, is only something the two developers recommend in specialized cases where Google's search or mapping detail offers a significant advantage, such as the more detailed coastlines that are important in Armstrong's Ship Finder app (below).



"The Google SDK is clearly not designed to be a drop-in replacement for Map Kit,? McKinlay noted. ?Its API is more closely related to the existing Google Maps Javascript and Android APIs. The parts of an app's code which interact directly with the map need to be rewritten. Map Kit offers the better developer experience at present. It's more mature, seems to perform better, and is easier to set up and use. There's also a lot more documentation, sample code, and tutorials available for Map Kit.?

Additionally, the report noted that Apple's new transit routing system in iOS 6 Maps (depicted below) "continues to generate significant download traffic" and that "the release of the Google Maps iOS app late last year does not appear to have significantly affected the level of referrals to the app from Apple?s Maps."

image

Future plans for mapping

Both Apple and Google are actively working to refine their competitive maps offerings. Apple still needs to improve upon its location data and searching savvy, two strengths of Google that attracted Apple into its partnership with the company in the original Maps.

Conversely, Google needs to improve upon its expertise in building and maintaining platforms. Since launching Android as a competitor to iOS several years ago, the company has seen remarkably little progress in wooing away developers or in building a functional, self sustaining software market.

Despite the various licensees of Android now claiming a collective majority in smartphone market share compared to iOS, Apple still dominates virtually every measure of actual use, from video consumption to mobile web browser share to app and media sales and even online shopping statistics.

More details on where Apple and Google plan to take maps should appear this summer as Apple hosts its WWDC event detailing iOS 7 and Google outlines its future plans at its own I/O developer conference.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 50
    I've always been impressed with the ease I've had integrating the iOS map functions into the apps I've been writing. Very straightforward and quick to get something useable up and running.
  • Reply 2 of 50
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,170member
    Hard to overcome the FUD though. It is now assumed by the tech media that Apple Maps is a subpar failure. Of course the trolls have made it one of their talking points. The disconnect between reality and perception is complete, recent tests by Leo LaPorte showing Apple Maps more accurate than Google Maps not withstanding.
  • Reply 3 of 50
    quadra 610quadra 610 Posts: 6,744member
    I liked Apple maps before it was cool to like Apple maps.
  • Reply 4 of 50
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by lkrupp View Post



    The disconnect between reality and perception is complete, recent tests by Leo LaPorte showing Apple Maps more accurate than Google Maps not withstanding.


    The disconnect, at least according to the article, is that the Apple Maps Mapkit tools for developers have been improved over the previous Google Map Mapkit tools. It has little to do with the client side accuracy or search. That Leo LaPorte Cupertino driving test was a joke. Sure it works fine in Apple's backyard.


     


    When I drive around California I use my in dash navigation not my iPhone anyway, so Apple maps accuracy around the US means nothing to me in terms of navigation. What they seriously need is a desktop version of Apple Maps before they can rival Google Maps.


     


    Apple Maps will undoubtably improve over time but they are a long way from being considered a top tier app in my opinion. Google just has a lot more detail. Even Open Street Map has better data.

  • Reply 5 of 50
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    lkrupp wrote: »
    Hard to overcome the FUD though. It is now assumed by the tech media that Apple Maps is a subpar failure. Of course the trolls have made it one of their talking points. The disconnect between reality and perception is complete, recent tests by Leo LaPorte showing Apple Maps more accurate than Google Maps not withstanding.

    Yep. It's amazing how FUD making Apple look bad gains traction so much more readily than facts which make Apple look good.
  • Reply 6 of 50
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,170member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post





    Yep. It's amazing how FUD making Apple look bad gains traction so much more readily than facts which make Apple look good.


     


    And mstone's post above proves my point perfectly.

  • Reply 7 of 50
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Krupp View Post




    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Krista View Post





    Yep. It's amazing how FUD making Apple look bad gains traction so much more readily than facts which make Apple look good.


     


    And mstone's post above proves my point perfectly.



    I have done a lot of comparative research on my own and according to my testing Apple Maps is grossly inferior. I would love to claim Apple Maps superior because I am a huge Apple apologist but it just isn't possible to spin this as an Apple Maps superiority situation because it simply sucks in so many areas.

  • Reply 8 of 50
    netytnetyt Posts: 3member
    Don't forget Mapbox. It's my favorite mapping SDK.
  • Reply 9 of 50

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Quadra 610 View Post



    I liked Apple maps before it was cool to like Apple maps.


    Me too.

  • Reply 10 of 50
    I stated this from the beginning. Apple Maps has the superior architecture underneath, but needs more mapping data/details.

    The good thing for Apple is that you can continue to add data to continually improve Maps. It's not as easy to change the underlying architecture (which is the area Google needs to improve).
  • Reply 11 of 50
    haggarhaggar Posts: 1,568member


    For more balanced coverage, you can read the actual report, or try the article on MacRumors:


     


    http://www.macrumors.com/2013/03/18/geocentric-app-developers-compare-apples-mapkit-and-google-maps-sdk/


     


    Here, you can read more comments from the very same developers-- comments which were conveniently omitted here on AI because they were negative toward Apple.  I don't see why the negative comments needed to be omitted, since those 2 developers were overall positive towards Apple in the end.

  • Reply 12 of 50
    emig647emig647 Posts: 2,413member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    I have done a lot of comparative research on my own and according to my testing Apple Maps is grossly inferior. I would love to claim Apple Maps superior because I am a huge Apple apologist but it just isn't possible to spin this as an Apple Maps superiority situation because it simply sucks in so many areas.



     


    I feel the results are hit or miss. They seem to be great here in Portland. I have ran into one issue and it was construction related, apple maps rerouted me perfectly (after reading the bad road wrong), google maps didn't reroute for my wife as gracefully (I was following her). Other devs and apple users around here seem to feel about the same. 


     


    With that being said, I still agree, they have a long way to go. But I can honestly say, I can use them full time without regrets. Someone in SoCal or South Dakota may have a completely different experience.

  • Reply 13 of 50
    matrix07matrix07 Posts: 1,993member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Haggar View Post


    For more balanced coverage, you can read the actual report, or try the article on MacRumors:


     


    http://www.macrumors.com/2013/03/18/geocentric-app-developers-compare-apples-mapkit-and-google-maps-sdk/


     


    Here, you can read more comments from the very same developers-- comments which were conveniently omitted here on AI because they were negative toward Apple.  I don't see why the negative comments needed to be omitted, since those 2 developers were overall positive towards Apple in the end.



    Thank you. AI should do a more complete work.


     


    Btw, I'm using Apple Map every day and find no problem. Can't wait for Map on OSX.

  • Reply 14 of 50
    lerxtlerxt Posts: 185member
    Did someone say it was cool to like Apple maps!? Bwhahahahaha!
  • Reply 15 of 50
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by emig647 View Post


     


    I feel the results are hit or miss. They seem to be great here in Portland. I have ran into one issue and it was construction related, apple maps rerouted me perfectly (after reading the bad road wrong), google maps didn't reroute for my wife as gracefully (I was following her). Other devs and apple users around here seem to feel about the same. 


     


    With that being said, I still agree, they have a long way to go. But I can honestly say, I can use them full time without regrets. Someone in SoCal or South Dakota may have a completely different experience.



    You know what I find really interesting is that I was ranting here on AI about the lack of detail in my native country's most popular destination only a few days ago and I just checked a couple moments ago and it is much more filled in now in Apple Maps and is significantly better almost as if Apple was reading my post and reacted to it. However, some of the landmarks are off by a half kilometer or so but that is somewhat consistent with the last time I was in the area. While I was driving down the coast, the blue dot indicating my location was actually displaying a couple 100 meters out in the ocean.

  • Reply 16 of 50
    macbook promacbook pro Posts: 1,605member
    I stated this from the beginning. Apple Maps has the superior architecture underneath, but needs more mapping data/details.

    The good thing for Apple is that you can continue to add data to continually improve Maps. It's not as easy to change the underlying architecture (which is the area Google needs to improve).


    I agree entirely. I have been arguing since the initial beta releases of Apple Maps that the app was absolutely brilliant. The iki (measured simplicity and sophistication without over-refinement, pretentiousness or complication) and shibui (simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty) was manifest from the beginning just as the responsive and scalable architecture are obvious.

    I am incredibly impressed by the pace at which Apple is improving Maps as well.
  • Reply 17 of 50
    desuserigndesuserign Posts: 1,316member


    I'll agree with this bit:


    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    What they seriously need is a desktop version of Apple Maps before they can rival Google Maps.



    and while they're at it, they need a desktop version of iBooks too, goll darn it (pardon my Minnesotan!)


     


    And I suppose I could agree with this too, with a few modifications.




    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    Apple Maps will undoubtably improve over time but they are a long way[s] from being considered  a  [the] top tier app in my opinion. Google just [still] has a lot more detail.




    I must say though, in many significant ways, Apple Maps is far superior to Google Maps, IMO.

  • Reply 18 of 50
    cash907cash907 Posts: 893member


    Shouldn't the title of this article be "Two Developers from the UK Prefer Apple's iOS Maps SDK over Google Maps?"


     


    I'm glad there are those who feel it is easier to program for, but on the user side, it still has a long way to go. It's gotten better from initial release, but I still rely on Google Maps, something that was reinforced yet again this weekend when Apple maps couldn't do something as simple as distinguish between "Ohio Gulch ROAD" and "Ohio Gulch DRIVE," a request Google Maps fulfilled quickly and without comment, as it should be. As far as routing and turn by turn navigation, both seem to perform on par with one another, which is good, though personally I prefer Google's voice to Apple's, but that's personal preference.

  • Reply 19 of 50
    cash907cash907 Posts: 893member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by DESuserIGN View Post


    I must say though, in many significant ways, Apple Maps is far superior to Google Maps, IMO.


     


    Ok. Which significant ways?

  • Reply 20 of 50
    haggarhaggar Posts: 1,568member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by matrix07 View Post


    Thank you. AI should do a more complete work.


     


    Btw, I'm using Apple Map every day and find no problem. Can't wait for Map on OSX.



     


    I guess it's no surprise, considering the author who has "A decade of experience in technical consulting or employment in information technology, recognized by the University of California to be equivalent to a Master’s Degree in Computer Science."


     


    http://www.roughlydrafted.com/resume.html

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