Overview of map services that bring the whole world to the smartphone screen

Paper maps are not in trend anymore. All we need is already on our smartphone. A variety of map services enable software developers to create multi-functional applications. In our new article, we take a closer look at the most popular of them. Some use cases are also reviewed!

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Do you remember the good old days when we traveled with paper maps in our hands and needed a pocket guide to find out more about the region? And if we were on the way with a car, we had to stop every now and then to unfold the huge map on the car hood to check whether we haven’t passed the right turn.

Let’s be honest, these days were not actually that great, and we are not at all nostalgic about the paper maps. Why should we, when all the information we need now fits in a small device? In addition, geolocation services on our phones enable applications to display our current location, making moving around in an unfamiliar area easier and more fun.

Many applications nowadays offer map-based services. And if you are on this page, you’re probably about to build such a product. We’ll guide you through a variety of tools that enable developers to add maps in an app and share some of our favorite past cases of implementing a map service in different types of software.

Map services to integrate into your app

Before considering the use of a map service, make sure that your application supports geolocation, meaning that it can extract information about the current user position. Smartphones can share this information based on GPS, Cell ID triangulation or Wi-Fi connection. Approaches for enabling the application to receive a device’s location vary depending on the platform the app is built for and the technologies used. Make sure to choose a geolocation API that fits your case.

And in most cases, any map in your application won’t make sense without identifying user’s current position.

So, you need a map in your application. You probably also need to overlay some information over the existing map. And, before you start to look for possible services that will enable you to do that, there is definitely one name already on your mind.

Google Maps

Yes, this is one of the most widely used services provided by the tech giant, and not surprisingly, most applications rely on Google Maps to display information based on current location. That’s why there is one obvious advantage - your customers are definitely acquainted with the UI and UX of Google powered map services. In addition, a highly appreciated feature is Street View - a unique invention of Google that has been reproduced by several other map providers. However, if your service relies on a 360-degree view of the neighbourhood, your choice should stop here.

One of the drawbacks that forces developers to look for alternatives is the fact that you cannot edit the Google Maps source code, which means that there is no ability to adjust the service to the need of the particular app. That’s why specific business cases will require you to work with specific map services. Fortunately, the modern market is full of alternatives.

Bing Maps

Bing Maps are provided by Microsoft, one of the Google’s main competitors. While it is not the best solution for mobile apps, it shows great results as a component of a desktop or web application. The advantage of this service is that it offers fleet management API solutions for enterprises. Transportation companies will definitely appreciate the Truck Routing API, which helps to build routes while considering all the restrictions connected with commercial vehicles. Size and turning radius of a truck, speed limits and road restrictions - these and many other factors are considered when building a route. So, if your business is connected with logistics, consider using Bing Maps.

Apple Maps

Apple Maps is a service familiar to all users of iPhones, iPads and Macbooks. Before 2012, Apple used Google Maps for all its applications, but the update to iOS 6 showed the world Apple’s plans to compete in the map market. Apple Maps is now a default solution for all iOS applications.

MapKit is a framework that allows you to embed Apple Maps in your applications and websites. It also enables you to add annotations, overlays, autocompletion when typing name of a street or a point of interest, and other additions. To be honest, Apple Maps doesn’t have any major advantages when compared to Google Maps, which is a truly multi-platform solution. however, this is an option to consider when focusing on developing apps for iOS and OS X.

Open Street Maps

Open Street Maps is an open source product that completely relies on the OpenStreetMap Community. The aim of the project is to provide a free editable map service that can be used both for commercial and non-commercial products.

OSM doesn’t have the convenient services offered by Google, such as Direction, live traffic information, turn-by-turn navigation, etc. However, the functionality of Open Street Maps can be extended with the help of third party services like Mapbox or Mapquest. Generally, this isn’t a complex all-in-one solution, but it works if a product requires a high degree of customization, which is often true for unique products or corporate services.

Geolocation and map services integration in practice

We often have to deal with geolocation and maps with our projects. That’s why we have prepared a short overview of the most interesting applications that rely on map services. You can also click on the active links to read full case studies. In these stories, we describe the whole development process, beginning with an idea and up to the release of a market-ready product.

You will definitely find some fresh ideas here on how to include maps-based functionality in your application.

Geolocation in a marketplace application

Toddy is a marketplace that aims at helping parents and babysitters connect with each other. The service is currently available in Australia and plans to expand to other markets soon as well.

We selected a hybrid approach for Toddy, since it was important to release the product as soon as possible and to start testing it with real customers. The technologies used were Cordova platform, Angular 2 and Ionic 2. It is commonly known that hybrid applications have limited access to smartphone hardware, but several native plugins made it possible.

One of these native plugins was Cordova Plugin Geolocation, which gave us access to the current positions of the app users. In addition, the app has integration with Google Maps, which enabled us to implement some advanced features. For example, when looking for a babysitter, parents can see on the map the actual distance to them, choose the babysitter that lives closest, and can react immediately on their request. Further, when booking is confirmed, the babysitter can see the location they need to go to on the map. If he needs directions to that place the default map service of the smartphone (Google Maps for Android, Apple Maps for iOS) is opened.

Geolocation and maps are not central features of the Toddy application, although they make user experience smooth, enabling users to quickly select the service provider in the neighborhood or to accept the request only if it fits the location preferences of the provider.

Logistics software that automatically builds optimal routes

Automatic route planning is one of the central features of UDK Weboffice, an enterprise software with a focus on optimized transportation. When it comes to logistics applications, geolocation and map services are essential components.

The company trucks usually have to deliver items to multiple locations, so the possibility to create optimized combined routes seemed like a silver bullet to make the work of the logistics department more efficient.

Our main helper was Google Maps API. The algorithms offered by this service enable quick and exact route planning, even when including multiple destinations. In addition, Google Maps provides reliable information concerning current traffic situations, enabling the service to build alternative routes to avoid traffic jams.

The unique geolocation and map-based features of UDK Weboffice enabled to dramatically improve the efficiency of transportation, reducing risks and therefore expenses.

Conclusion

Our experience shows that most of the projects involving maps rely on Google Maps.

This service is reliable, has a low learning curve and fits any type of app, including native and hybrid mobile apps, web applications and desktop software. Besides, Google offers some special features like 360 panoramas with Street View Image API, information about places on the map with Google Places API, current time in the place of interest with Time Zone API, etc.

Bing Maps, Apple Maps, Open Street Maps and other service providers enter the game when it comes to more specific use cases. For example, if an application is developed exclusively for iOS, then your users will appreciate the familiar experience with Apple Maps, which most Apple-based applications use.

If a high degree of customization is your priority, then you should consider the open-source solution, Open Street Maps. Bing Maps, with its Truck Routing API, is a preferred option for transportation and logistics software.

Do you need advice concerning map services and integration into your existing product? Or do you have an idea for a revolutionizing applications based on maps? We are here to help you turn your ideas into reality. Contact us to discuss the prospects of such a product and the technical implementation of such features.

Thanks for reading!

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