Cards on the table: how to choose a supplier of geographic maps for a mobile application

    You have a great idea for a mobile app. Designers are already thinking out the interface elements, you are mentally reading positive reviews on popular sites, in your mind you are thinking about an article on Habré. The future is beautiful and replete with at least 4.5 stars on Google Play and the AppStore. Oh yeah, there was a trifle: choose a supplier of cards. But when you begin to turn this little thing, and so, and commercials, it will become clear that the coin did not fall heads or tails, and became on the edge.

    What determines the choice of map service? It seems that everything is simple: an application for Russia? We take maps of Yandex. Directing the look to the West? Google maps to help. Or this: Google maps will be suitable for Android, as all the same, Google products are pre-installed (so far) for these smartphones. Simpler? Yes. More profitable and more logical? Not.

    To determine the provider of cards, you need to take into account many parameters. And although there are plenty of variables, we will try to derive a few rules on the basis of which the choice is made easier.

    1. Your application

    First of all, look at your product, and not at geoservice offers.

    What are you speaking about

    The most important point is the functionality you intend to implement. What will the application do? What is his card for? Simply marking the addresses of the stores or indicating the passage to the beauty salon is one thing. And if all user actions are tied up on routes and searching by coordinates - a completely different conversation.

    For example,
    at the St. Petersburg Institute of Design and Urban Studies, they wanted to walk interestingly, and not by the shortest route, and developed the Sight Safari service . The mobile application is still under development. But the history of the appearance of the web service clearly explains why the maps from Google and Yandex are not their method and how to deal with the shortcomings of open source maps.

    Not all services support offline operation and routing. Not everyone can put user data on their cards. Finally, someone has a raster map, and someone offers a vector with great potential for scaling.

    This also includes the question of a smartphone: on which devices will your application be installed? If not too powerful, then perhaps you should pay attention not to the giants with extensive functions (for example, maps from Google can load longer than the owner of a simple phone with a small memory can withstand without nerves), but for something more specific.

    It is also worth remembering that if your functionality is built on the base of the cards, then in the face of the provider it is better to find a partner, and not a small side detail. So that in one non-red day all the control over the critical part of the infrastructure does not go into the fog along with changes in the conditions of using API cards.

    Where are you

    “And today we will try to conquer the world,” said the lab mouse Brain in the series about herself, her beloved, and not so ambitious mouse Pinky. If you are overwhelmed by the same thoughts, then go to the live map view: what is the country specification? What languages ​​are the names in? If the application is installed on an iPhone in Colombia, will the user be able to find the right home in Arauca, and in San Andreas click on the marker, bring up a window with information and read the description in Creole?

    It is likely that your geography does not run into countries, but into cities or even urban-type settlements. Then it is worth comparing the same point from the point of view of different cartographers. It is possible that someone in the village of New Baluiki has streets registered, and someone sins with gray areas, but you have an app for shopping in the new shops of shops.

    for example
    Polish drug search service in pharmacies GdziePoLek worked on Google Maps, consistently and without question. But in June 2018, the owners received a letter from Google, where they were notified of changes on the platform and in terms of use. New realities GdziePoLek not arranged. I had to look for another supplier of cards. Surprisingly, the alternative is not so bad: the pharmacy in the small town of Konstantin (23 thousand inhabitants for 2006) looks decent not only from Google.

    (Source: startup blog )

    Check which cards users prefer in the areas you want. Habit is a terrible thing: you can do the coolest routing, colorful layers with lots of information, and users will be uncomfortable rearranging. And now there are refusals from the application.

    How much money do you have

    Not all cards are equally free. In the example of a Polish startup, we are talking about money: in their case, the $ 0.5 tariff for commercial use increased to $ 7 (14 times). Show a person where to buy valerian, was expensive. Played a role and the new payment system, pay-as-you-go: with the postpay GdziePoLek lost the ability to plan expenses.

    However, there is one delicate moment: if your application has a lot of downloads, the number of users is growing by leaps and bounds, and there is no money to pay for cards - what have you done wrong in your marketing strategy?

    How much money do you take

    If your application can be freely downloaded and anyone can register for it - congratulations, you are beautiful and get cards for free from any provider, even from leading players. Otherwise (for example, if you have a paid application for accountants) have to use a commercial license. And here you should clearly understand how much of your functionality is occupied by the cards and how many accesses to them by the user will be per month.

    For example,
    when using the commercial license of Here maps, you will pay $ 449 per month if you buy the Pro package. And your users will be able to complete up to a million card transactions.
    Here transactions imply a request to the server. But the case with maps is special: if a request is made to the map, it doesn't matter if it is a satellite or a road map, 15 requests to the server are counted for one transaction. A geocoding request counts as one transaction. Full list of transaction options here .

    You have a native or hybrid application.

    Maps - this is the functionality that is implemented on the side of the smartphone. Therefore, if you have a native application for one or both platforms, then you need specialists in Java / Kotlin and / or Objective-C / Swift. If you plan to launch a hybrid on the market, then you will not need to attract native language experts.

    Most providers support both iOS and Android, and try to create detailed guides for developers. So getting the API maps for the desired platform is not a problem.

    2. Your provider

    Google maps

    You are not you, when not read the documentation from Google. Code examples, library, SDK - you can find everything. Developers are encouraged to use a tool to select an API , in case you are not sure which interface is needed for the project.

    In the hot summer of 2018, the developers were presented with the Google Maps Platform, a powerful service that combined 18 tools into three categories: Maps, Routes, and Places. You can use the platform as shareware (within $ 200), and for a fee. The full price list is here , but it was not by chance that the summer was so hot: there is also a page explaining how to use the price list and decrypt bills - apparently, not all the new payment system seemed transparent to all.

    Despite the confusion in tariffs and not everyone liked the update, the platform is constantly evolving, embeds something new into the cards. For example, at the conference in May 2018, they announced an augmented reality mode: you point the camera to the street and you see the cards of places located nearby, the names of the street itself, you build the route right on the asphalt. The developers added to the presentation, as they say, for the fun assistant - the fox, which shows where to go.

    (Source: Jeff Chiu / AP / Scanpix / LETA)

    From June 11, developers need a valid API key and payment account on the Google Cloud Platform to access the Google Maps Platform services. Even if you do not need much and all your actions fit into a loan of $ 200.

    Yandex maps

    Not in contrast to the Google Maps Platform, but close to that, Yandex shows Yandex MapKit . The service allows you to integrate maps into mobile applications for Android and iOS. Maps will work both online and offline.

    This is a multifunctional and transparent in terms of payment tool: it allows you to embed virtually any Yandex.Maps function in an application, from searching addresses to routing taking into account houses under construction. Full price here .

    Pay attention
    Yandex MapKit can be used for free or on a commercial basis. The total number of requests to the geocoder, router and panoramas per day should not exceed 25 thousand for free use.
    (Source: Yandex )

    There are two paid versions: standard and extended. The license is given for a year, and its cost depends on the purpose of the application, its capabilities and the number of requests to the application per day.


    An increasingly popular open source service, Wikipedia Maps. Data is created and entered by community members. It thundered through the media as an excellent “crisis mapping” option, when in 2010, after the earthquake in Haiti, thousands of users took up an actual map of the region, taking into account the changed relief and drawing points where victims can get help.

    The main goal of the OSM mappers community is not so much to draw a map, but to create a database based on it and populate the points with information. Therefore, on the basis of OSM, you can create a lot of interesting maps: cycling routes, resort maps with attractions and so on.

    These maps are free, but there are some technical details (for example, a limit on the number of geocoding requests per second to the OSM server). Plus, inconvenience can deliver all the "charms" of the network project.

    For example, the
    highway = unclassified tag in OSM does not mean “an unknown type of road”, but a specific type of road according to the European classification. It assumes the presence of a pedestrian curb or sidewalk. But many users assign this tag to any unknown road, and as a result, OSM-based navigation applications build hiking routes here. And the road can only be for cars.


    This service can be called a kind of "wrapper" over OSM, which gives excellent detail maps. In addition, Mapbox in news reports is often called the most vigorously developing map service.

    For example,
    Urbica has released an AR-application : you can see the 3D versions of the iconic buildings of St. Petersburg in augmented reality. They took maps from Mapbox as a base because of the active development of the SDK for Unity (a platform for developing 3D games).

    The cost of use, as with most competitors, is based on the number of requests to the map for a period of time. Pricing can be seen here.. It is possible to use it for free if you have up to 50 thousand per month: active users, requests for geocoding, requests for directions. If the card through your application has been used by more people and more requests have been formed, then you will have to pay $ 0.5 for every 500 users and a thousand requests through the pay-as-you-go system.

    Of course, if you have a paid application, then look at the commercial license: pay-as-you-go mentioned above with all its fees plus $ 499 per month.

    Mapbox CEO Eric Gundersen said in an interview : “If you are doing technology for cars, then communicate tightly with automotive engineers. <...> In fact, we make cards not for humans, but for robots. They are designed taking into account the capabilities of automotive sensors, radar and other systems. "


    Nokia-based geolocation platform (now owned by a consortium of Audi AG, BMW Group, Daimler AG, Intel, Navinfo, NVIDIA, Pioneer, Bosh, Continental). The coverage is satisfactory, including in Russia. But maps in our country, however, do not suffer from the details: you can get directions, see house numbers, however POIs (point of interest, sights, shops, offices, gas stations, etc.) are often irrelevant. Therefore, if your application will be focused on pedestrians or search for organizations (especially in small cities), Here in Russia is not your provider.

    But for drivers and logistics services here can be a good solution. Here cards are in cars from Audi, BMW, Daimler. Yes, and Here, automakers bought as a base for work on autopilot systems, which resulted in the HD Live Map project . The company's blog on Medium, in particular, describes how to simplify the path of the vehicle fleet using the API for routing trucks.

    The undoubted advantage Here can be called a trial period of 90 days. Developers pay special attention to the fact that the key for 90 days is given without sending your billing information in Here (a slight nod to Google with their demand to show your credit card, even if you expect to never go beyond the limit of $ 200).

    If you plan to make your application paid, then - a surprise! - Here you can do it on a freemium fare. Yes, that's fine with us - it is written in the FAQ. But for what you have to pay, you can find out in detail here .

    Please note
    If your task is to accurately search for addresses in the EU, study the Here: map detail in Europe at altitude.

    2 GIS

    Domestic map service with detail to the fences. Open source as OSM, and the same JS-Leaflet library at the base. Detailed database for Russia and not only. Particularly pleased with the information from the 2GIS directories for local companies, so the platform is useful for those who focus applications on pedestrians or company directories: your users can easily find the desired office or landmark on the map. However, here it is worth being careful - check in advance if the relevant information is relevant in the desired city, whether all POIs are mapped.

    The service is shareware - all the same use of the API only for freely downloadable open applications.

    2GIS collaborates with Apple: data on organizations in 290 cities, photos of institutions and reviews of them were embedded in the Maps application on iOS. Perhaps this will help Russian Apple fans not to get into the situation like in a joke that wanders through cartographer forums in the West:
    A priest, a rabbi and a monk using Apple. (A priest, a rabbi, and a monk, using Apple cards, went to a bar. Or a restaurant. Or maybe it's a gas station.)


    TomTom - a company from the Netherlands, which is firmly established in the market of navigators in the European Union and North America. Thanks to the 2008 provider, Tele Atlas has an excellent coverage.

    This provider gives 2500 transactions per day for free. Further it is necessary to pay upon use, from $ 25. For commercial applications and logistics businesses, the license will cost from $ 199.

    Pay attention
    TomTom was noted in collaboration with Apple: Apple Company chose TomTom maps for its own development navigation application on iOS 6. And extends the agreement to this day. Guess whose cards were replaced in this way back in 2012? True - Google.


    This provider on behalf of its CEO promises more accurate maps than those of Mapbox and OSM. And the cost is lower than that of Google before the introduction of the new payment system.

    Commmunity, Growth, Scale - three tariff plans for different purposes, from a free Community to $ 1,499 per month at the Scale tariff, designed for large-scale applications. Free use is possible only for non-commercial purposes. Up to 50 thousand map downloads per month are allowed in the Community tariff. Full price is here .

    Please note
    On the Mapfit website in the FAQ section there is an item on migration from the maps of any other provider, where they promise instructions on GitHub. At the time of this writing, the link, instead of the step-by-step guide, produced a sad error of 404. However, in the documentationThere is an instruction about moving from specifically Google maps.

    LeafLet and OpenLayers

    If you want independence almost in the absolute, you have to try. You can deploy your own OSM-based card on your server, with blackjack and the right options — all thanks to the Leaflet and OpenLayers libraries.

    Both libraries are open source in JavaScript. Maps will be customized as you want. There will be no dependence on marketing decisions of a vendor like Google. But the question remains: is it so great the need to acquire their servers and sculpt a personal card?

    And if it is shorter?

    For ease of comparison, we have brought together the most important data on providers in one picture. For the maximum rating they took “+++”, for the minimum “+”. As you can see, at the time of this writing, the providers (in general) are approximately in the same line. Of course, everything can change at once: the mappers from OSM will suddenly stop replenishing cards, Google will change the type of activity and will release children's books. But so far we have such a picture.

    3. And how does it work?

    Let's say you have conceived an application of the best nostalgic motives. It would be great if in any city in Russia a list of songs was displayed on the map, where they sang about the city or sights. “Wonderful man / I was taken to Gelendzhik” or “To drink in St. Petersburg” from a well-known artist you wanted to perpetuate on the map. You plan to put the points either in the tourist center of the city, or in some place popular with the citizens. The application of course will be free - you do not feel sorry for the people.

    The application for Russia, you do not consider the Western market. The number of calls to the map is unlikely to be huge - you understand that the application is not designed for mass or daily use, although the number of downloads may increase during the holiday period. From personal preferences you want to make an application for Android-smartphones.

    Your actions? The accuracy and detail of maps from Yandex and Google are quite suitable for you. 2GIS is also your provider. However, you want to put a balun (a pop-up window with any HTML content) in some interesting place that official directories may not know about. Or maybe independently complement the card to the delight of users. So your choice is OSM. Good luck!

    For example
    in the practice of Umbrella ITmost often featured maps from google. This choice is due to ease of use and customization, as well as rich functionality. However, there are situations when the customer needs something special. This was the case with an application that required working offline and good map detailing for checkiners, but in that region maps from Google only showed large cities. And how to check in a small village, if there is a dull gray polygon on the map instead? So we decided to use OSM

    4. Bonus: what to do if you are transporting goods

    Pay attention to google. For your application is important stability of the cards, detail in small cities. And most importantly - the ability to track cargo. But working with maps offline does not greatly affect the choice: your users will not need to upload heavy maps to their smartphones, watch street names - the main thing is to see the point where the load is now located.

    If you are considering another provider, keep in mind the following: for the applications for monitoring transport / people / something else, any card provider provides its services for a fee. Even if you have a free open source application, and the number of calls to the card does not exceed the limits for free tariffs.

    Photo: Freepik

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