The definitive Map API buying guide
Several questions arise: "Do you need only a map solely for data visualization? Or do you require more complex (and expensive) APIs such as Geocoding, Reverse Geocoding, or Routing? Will out-of-the-box solutions fit you?"
The use case plays the most important role in deciding on a Map API vendor.
Specific and niche requirements mandate the choice.
A slightly neglected feature to pay attention to is the burst rate - queries per second (QPS), especially for asset tracking and navigation purposes.
Unfortunately, many Map APIs don't explicitly state the limits, and the increased quota is charged extra. For example, Geocoding and Routing burst rates vary from 5 QPS (TomTom, Mapbox) to 50 QPS (Google).
Asset-tracking solutions rely greatly on Map APIs to present the information and deliver insights to the end customers. Due to the sheer amount of data, they constantly juggle Map API costs, the frequency of requests, and delivering quality services to their customers, making telematics service providers in the most unfavorable position amongst all use cases.
Because asset tracking requires a collection of map APIs (map display, map visualization, reverse geocoding, distance matrix, directions), the pricing is outstandingly higher. The pricing is typically either API or asset-based.
API-based pricing suits only small TSP companies with small fleet sizes and thus low API consumption.
Asset-based pricing usually covers unlimited API usage but often offers insufficient request frequency rates (typically 50 QPS, and uplifts are charged extra). However, delivering asset reports at 50 QPS rates provides a sluggish experience to the end customers, and developers are more or less successfully circumventing this, deliberately throttling API requests and removing certain software features.
Self-hosting and flat-rate Map services are a perfect fit for asset tracking solutions. Scaling map servers ensures desired request frequency, and the flat-rate pricing removes uncertainty in monthly invoices.
Note: Vendors typically do not include map matching or are limited to a small number of sequential positions.
The development of navigation apps is either strictly prohibited or incredibly expensive by the majority of vendors. Automotive is a particularly niche use case and is always tailor-made.
Only a few provide an option of running map APIs on physical servers, virtual machines, or private clouds.
Mapbox provides Atlas for such purposes, however, with APIs limited to Tile and Geocoding only and a yearly map update (industry standard is quarterly).
The majority of API vendors, especially within proprietary SDKs, inherently track, collect, and process end-user movement (locations).
The omnipresent Google Maps Platform is excellent, but it comes with a trade-off - collecting and processing user-generated data. TomTom's data processing also includes collecting unique identifiers, IP addresses, and usage patterns.
Apple is the forerunner in end-user privacy protection, and Apple Maps platform assigns users random IDs, obfuscates user's searches, and doesn't retain user's history. HERE, the world-leader map data provider and Mapbox, an OSM-based platform, both claim they solely collect location data to improve their map data and services.
If your goal is to offer absolute privacy to end customers, make sure that your vendor supports such option. For example, setting up a dedicated map server (on-premises hosting) ensures privacy by default.
The support level isn't just limited to Service Level Agreements and response times in handling priority-level issues. A dedicated support engineer in charge of handling issues and feature requests is crucial if your needs are remotely specific. Support plans are usually charged as a minimum spend fee or as a percentage of a monthly fee.
While the majority of vendors have developed JS SDKs, but native SDKs are a little less common. Fortunately, there are quality open-source SDKs available, but make sure to check the Terms and Conditions because usage of 3rd-party APIs is usually forbidden.
Government organizations usually have either proprietary or confidential map data, which they want to utilize for urban planning, maintenance, etc.
Due to the complexity of building and processing map data and, not many Map API vendors offer this possibility.
Quarterly map updates are industry standard. Global map data providers don't supply more than 4 updates yearly. However, local map data providers are more flexible and able to produce urgent updates. OpenStreetMap data can be updated on a daily basis.
Map matching is a crucial part of any eminent fleet tracking business. In conventional fleet tracking solutions, maps are used only as an overlay to display the vehicle positions. However, to accurately provide relevant insights, e.g., to determine the mileage is driven or fuel consumption, GPS positions map matching is essential.
Mid-sized Map API vendors can typically react faster to changes and features in customers' requests. Large companies provide out-of-the-box solutions and aren't necessarily willing to introduce new features or make adjustments if the interest is small.
Some examples of custom use cases are automotive, truck routing, exceptional transport logistics, environmental zones routing, computer-aided dispatching, etc.
Read more about how to choose the best Map API platform:
Check how Compact Maps ticks the boxes of your Map API buying checklist!