Apple MapKit vs. Google Maps SDK: Which One Do Developers Prefer?

googlemaps_11Late last year, to the relief of many iOS 6 users, Google released its own iOS Maps app, and an accompanying SDK for developers to embed Google’s map tiles in third-party iOS apps.

We thought that given how Apple’s mapping data was widely critisized, location app developers would have rushed to switch their mapping providers from Apple to Google, but, as it turned out, things weren’t so simple.

Developers of two popular location based apps Plane Finder (iTunes link) and Tube Tamer (iTunes link) spoke with Fast Company, comparing, in detail, Apple’s MapKit framework and Google’s own iOS Maps SDK. The developers noted that in many areas, Apple’s satellite imagery was blurry, dark and lacked contrast:

“From a developer’s perspective, Google Maps are superior to Apple’s in that the SDK supports 3-D buildings, and users have the ability to rotate and tilt the map view in the app–something Apple doesn’t currently support in MapKit,” said McKinlay. He also noted that Google’s SDK offers better hybrid and satellite imagery, a particular advantage for developers using a lot of map overlays.

That said, Google’s Maps SDK has its own share of issues, the primary one being that Google imposes a limit on the daily number of requests sent by an app to 100,000, after which requests are rejected, leading to a bad end-user experience. Apple’s solution on the other hand imposes no such limits.

Developers also highlight that Google’s iOS SDK is in a very nascent stage, with only a basic set of features. Apple’s MapKit framework has been around since iOS 1.0 days, making it very mature and stable. The native integration into the OS also shows, with MapKit being smooth during pan and zoom gestures, as compared to Google’s SDK which is capped at 30 fps framerates. This problem becomes even more apparent as developers start overlaying map tiles with their own information, pins, routes etc.

“We can’t do some of our more advanced features in Plane Finder like gradient polylines, chart overlays, or smooth moving planes with animations,” Armstrong says. “We have some complex tiled overlays in Plane Finder: These are aviation charts that actual pilots use. With the Google Maps SDK these tiled overlays are just not possible right now.”

If you’ve ever wondered why one of your favorite apps relies on Apple maps despite Google providing an official SDK, here’s your reason. So until there is a clear winner, the solution developers have is to do what of Plane Finder did — implement a dual mapping system that uses the best of both worlds.

If you’re a developer then I would recommend heading over to FastCompany to read the in-depth comparison between the iOS Maps frameworks.

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