Google Maps - The Alternative iOS Mapping SDK
Written by Mike James   
Thursday, 13 December 2012

Google maps for iOS is now available as a free download, and this should see the end of the Apple map fiasco. Most important, however, is that it comes with an SDK that gives developers a choice of which maps to include in their apps.

The strange story of Apple's replacement of Google mapping for its own inadequate offering is one that will be discussed for many a month. However, an often overlooked issue is that developers were forced to share in the shame of it all because the iOS SDK made use of Apple's official mapping. In other words. not only did Apples poor maps reflect poorly on Apple. but also on any app that had no choice but to use them.

Now a Google Map app has been allowed back onto iOS devices. It is free to download from the app store and no doubt many users will take advantage of the reliability of Google's maps, not perfect but better than Apple's, and install the new app. The app also has lots of features to recommend it over and above its basic accuracy - turn-by-turn navigation, life traffic information, bus, train and subway details and walking directions.

You can see some of the features in the following Google promo video:


It is remarkable that Apple has allowed the Google app back onto their heavily defended platform and this is especially surprising when you learn that the app comes with an SDK.

The SDK uses vector-based maps in 2D and 3D. The map API includes the usual map objects complete with markers, polylines and the ability to change the view and map type. You can use it to put together a custom map that can be embedded in your app. Alternatively you can use a URL scheme to load the Google Map application. The URL scheme includes the ability to search for a location and to get directions to a location. For many apps this might be sufficient mapping stupor and it avoids a lot of coding.

To make use of the Google Map SDK you need an API key and these are being supplied to developers who register an interest. It isn't clear at the moment if the supply of keys is in any way limited.

So should you opt to use the Google Map API and stop your app looking locationally challenged?

This is not a difficult question to answer from the technology point of view. Google Maps is a good product and it is easy to use. Its only downside is that the user has to install the Google Map app for your app to work and this might be an unnecessary complication that reduces the attractiveness of your work. 




However, from a political point of veiw things are not quite so clear cut. There have been lots of speculation on whether or not Google Maps would be allowed back onto iOS and it is to Apple's credit that it has not stooped to some evil trick to keep its maps as the undisputed API. However, this doesn't mean that some way down the road it won't suddenly have a change of heart and find some infringement of the App Store regulations. This is the problem and uncertainty of working in a regulated enthronement.

At the moment it seems a good bet for the future - but keep an eye on the situation.

Stop Press!

Google Maps has become the most popular free download in the App Store after just 7 hours!



SDK documentation

URL scheme

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 13 December 2012 )