There's a Map for That

Mobile’s value proposition is ultimately convenience: anytime, anywhere access to people and information. Hence the value of adding maps and other navigation features to apps.

For mobile app developers, there’s no shortage of map solutions. One factor to consider is the app’s target platform and what it natively includes.

“Google Maps is superior in terms of coverage and precision, especially in remote areas,” says Mette Lykke, co-founder of Endomondo, whose apps combine fitness with social networking. “Until recently this was the natural choice for apps on Android and iOS. It still is for Android.”

Apple’s dumping of Google Maps might be the best-known example of how the field of mapping options isn’t static, but it’s not the only major change in the past year. In June, Microsoft announced that Nokia Maps would replace Bing Maps in Windows Phone. And in November, Nokia announced HERE, a multi-device and -OS solution that will expand to Android in early 2013.

Map Features: Web-Based or Native?
When comparing options, one factor for mobile app developers is whether to use a native map library or a Java Script API (JSAPI) Web-based map. Each option has its pros and cons. For example, one consideration is whether the app needs to target multiple platforms, such as Android and iOS.

“The Web-based map enables cross-platform support, which will save the developer the effort in writing a separate mapping code for each platform,” says Oded Nevo, platform product manager at Telmap, an Intel-owned company that specializes in location services. [Disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this content.]

“However, choosing the Web-based map will mean in many cases that developers will need to slightly compromise the map performance,” he continues. “Choosing to use a native library will mean coding the map section per each platform. However, you will get a slicker map behavior.”

Factors to Consider in Choosing a Map Feature for Your Mobile App
In addition to the Web-based versus native consideration, it’s also important to research the APIs available in a mapping library. Focus on things such as the ease of implementation and whether the map feature supports all of the functions that are key for making your mobile app stand out in the market.

“Last but not least is pricing,” Nevo says. “Most of the big brands in the mapping APIs arena will offer a free quota that many developers will probably never exceed, especially if they are at the initial stages of building/developing a product.

“For more mature products which generate a large amount of traffic, developers should seek getting an SLA with the chosen mapping solution provider. This is called in many cases the ‘professional’ plan/track. Developers also need to bear in mind that there are several types of applications that are automatically being categorized under the professional plan/track license scheme. These are usually paid applications, enterprise applications or applications around asset management and tracking.”