Maps are layers of information that require interpretation and decision making. A simple misinterpretation can lead to a wrong turn which can prolong an increasingly urgent washroom break. Luckily, digital maps give us the ability to navigate with relative ease. Maps are now convenient and accessible through most, if not all, mainstream digital channels such as phones, tablets, kiosks, browsers and personal and public forms of transportation. Online communities and context help to shape the relevancy and accuracy of the information of our maps. This hopefully leads to improved planning, understanding and overall travel efficiency.
I think it is safe to say that Google has firmly established itself not only as the de facto search engine but as the preeminent mapping and navigation service in North America. Desktop and mobile apps like Waze, an app now owned by Google, tap into Google’s vast data emporium. If we want to get somewhere “quick” or locate something “right now” then Google directly or indirectly becomes our conduit to successfully achieving our goals and desires. Like a genie, rub the lamp (your phone or whatever works), make your wish and you are good to go! Most of the time, anyways.
In the wild wild west of websites and web apps, what happens when Google decides that your maps, which of course utilize their mapping service(s), will no longer work as expected unless you jump through a series of initial hoops, like an obedient show dog? You can do what they ask, move forward and spend the necessary time checking and updating each and every site or app to ensure your maps are still functioning as expected. In my opinion, Google made a wrong turn by inconveniencing its users. Is it time to revolt? Maybe, so let’s explore some other options for getting back on track with your maps.
Before moving forward, I should take a moment to mention that I do not readily use or condone the use of these other mapping services. In a virtual world where Google is becoming the god we worship for page rankings and search results, tread lightly and do your research. Onward!
You, like me, may have first stumbled into this “magical” land of digital navigation, and online maps, through some early online services such as Map Quest. Yes, MapQuest is still around and they seem to be just as relevant as Yahoo is today when competing with behemoths like Google. Still, they are a viable option and if you are into all things retro or if you want to kick it old school then why not give them a whirl.
Bing Maps is Microsoft’s mappings service. It has been around just as long as Google Maps and it works well enough, obviously. Well, it is a Microsoft product so it is hard to sometimes determine if we are going to get Xbox (good) or Internet Explorer (garbage) quality. So, is Bing better than Google Maps? Take a read through this article if you are curious. Anecdotally, I have heard the API is less of a headache to work with, which is appreciated by both old and new developers alike. Like most API’s, it really comes down to choosing the right tool for the job and understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each. Maybe Bing is hip with the .NET kids and their C#’s? Think West Side Story but with code gangs… never mind.
Oh, one more thing! Bing is the search engine used by Siri if you own an iOS device.
Apple’s MapKit JS
You may or may not be a fan of Apple Maps. It received a lot of bad press when it was initially released with iOS 6 on September 19, 2012. Yes, it has grown and matured like a fine apple tree over the years but it still has some catching up to do when compared to Google Maps.
For years, Apple’s mapping services and MapKit API have been confined to iOS apps and iCloud.com. On June 4, 2018, at the WWDC 2018 (Apples annual developer conference) Apple decided to bring Apple Maps to the web with MapKit JS. This begs the question, why is Apple deciding to now let web developers in on the action? I have no solid evidence as to why, but I suspect it could have something to do with privacy or world domination. Maybe they are positioning themselves to be the alternative to big brother Google who we know is tracking and collecting our data, regardless of consent.
Like most things Apple, there is a certain level of polish and fluidity to their UI and interactions. MapKit JS maps embed in the browser are no exception. Have a look for yourself at their demo site. The API is currently in Beta, but for a company who has seemed to have stepped back from contributing to and advancing the Web, this is pretty neat-o stuff. Is it practical or worth the switch? For Apple fans maybe. For those concerned with privacy it is hard to say since Apple uses various data providers.
Heck no! I had a short love affair with Mapbox a few years back and it was a beautiful thing! Time has passed and we have stayed in touch but that is it. Mapbox is amazing and fun and full of life. I need to stop here before the floodgates open, but please look them up if you are town for a quick fling or a true commitment.
As always do a Google, Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo search and you will find even more offerings that may be truly magical, or at least practical.