Choosing a Map API: Mapbox vs. Google Maps

If you’re looking to build an app, chances are, it will be using a digital map. The good news is you don’t have to create one from scratch since the market is brimming with ready-made solutions. But what maps to choose for an app? That’s where Acropolium’s expertise comes into play.

Our 15 years of experience building end-to-end software solutions made it clear that in most cases, you won’t go wrong with Google Maps and Mapbox APIs, which are, in our opinion, the best map APIs for your app. But when exactly do you need each of them? And what about other options? Find all the answers here.

Which map API is the best: Mapbox vs. Google Maps API?

Google Maps and Mapbox are probably the first two map APIs to cross your mind. And it isn’t surprising since both providers offer decent functionality, including:

  • Basic map functionality: Various types of maps, accurate and detailed map data, ability to add markers and images, clustering options, route planning, turn-by-turn directions, and beyond
  • Details: Detailed information on places and points of interest (POI)
  • Extended search options: Autosuggest, autocomplete, and parameter-based search

Still, despite many similarities, Google Maps and Mapbox are different services with their unique pros and cons. Let’s look at them in more detail.

Google Maps API Review

Google Maps is the market leader for a reason

Used by 67% of smartphone owners, Google Maps is the most popular navigation app and map API.

What apps use Google Maps API?

Besides, with Bolt, Uber, and Tripadvisor among the most famous apps that use Google Maps API, the giant has been the only viable option in the digital mapping domain for a pretty long time.

Still, this location service provider is no silver bullet despite the reputation and popularity. So, let’s explore the advantages of Google Maps integration as well as the API’s limitations.

Pros

Excellent coverage and data quality

Thanks to the Street View vehicles, regular corrections from users, and tons of satellite data, Google maps has no equals in terms of coverage. If your application requires the utmost accuracy of location data, you can’t go wrong with Google Maps.

An extensive variety of languages

With its global reach, the Google Maps services are available in a wide array of languages. You can select between 80 language options, including Afrikaans, Khmer, and Amharic. This means that most of your app users will be able to use the map feature in their native languages - excellent news for a business owner looking to build an app with extended geography.

Customization options

Thanks to its JSON-like syntax, you can add markers, create geoclusters, include information windows, customize colors, change the style, and modify the opacity of map elements with ease. Besides, the company has rolled out new custom styles as a beta. This makes Google Maps API a decent option if you want to boost your brand recognition.

The Street View feature

For ten years now, Street View remains unique to Google Maps API. It provides interactive 3D visual representations of various surroundings worldwide, including not just cities but also rural areas. Most pictures are done by car and shown as blue lines on Google Maps.

Street View doesn’t belong to the must-have features of location-aware applications. But if you have a restaurant or a store, for example, you can allow your potential customers to visit your place virtually, which may set you apart from the competition right off the bat.

Reputation

As we mentioned above, Google Maps is the most preferred navigation service. Besides, statistics suggest that 25% of smartphone owners use this navigation app because they believe it offers better directions. This means that integrating Google Maps into your application will create a sense of trust, and the app will have more chances of gaining initial traction successfully.

Cons

  • Rendering issues. First-time rendering freezes an app.
  • No offline mode. Unfortunately, there’s no such a thing as Google Maps offline API.
  • Doesn’t support all browsers. Google Maps API has certain limitations when it comes to its browser compatibility. Still, it supports the most popular ones: Google Chrome (obviously), Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Internet Explorer. Find more information here.
  • Pricing. Google Maps API is known for its steep prices and tricky pricing plans, which we’ll discuss later. However, the first $200 of monthly usage is free.
  • Small usage limit. You can make a limited number of API calls per second. For details on the limitations, click here.

The bottom line

With the broadest set of features on today’s market, Google Maps is, in most cases, a universal option, especially when:

  • Accurate map data is critical for your app, and you need the best geocoding API. For instance, when you’re building an app that finds local pharmacies. Wrong data will frustrate users and might even cost someone’s health. So, the Google Maps API geocoder is exactly what you need.
  • Detailed data is important.
  • You are building an app for a store or restaurant and want to allow virtual tours around your business. The Street View function will help you with that.
  • You are a young company, and you haven’t built your reputation yet.
  • Your app isn’t supposed to use offline maps.

Of course, these cases are just a few examples when you can find Google Maps API useful. But if none of them resonates with your app, perhaps you should give Mapbox a try.

Mapbox API Review

Shopify, Facebook, Snap, and Airbnb use Mapbox

Mapbox is one of the main Google Maps alternatives. The service is known for its dynamic, interactive, and customizable maps for apps. Though it was launched just eight years ago, today the US-based location data service provider takes pride in 420 million users and handles five billion requests per day.

What apps use Mapbox API?

Shopify, Facebook, and Airbnb are only some of the well-known apps that use Mapbox.

But no SDK is all about advantages. Let’s explore the pros and cons of Mapbox integration.

Pros

Partnership with PubNub

Mapbox stands out with geocoding, live data streaming, asset tracking, dynamic map visualizations with real-time data, and heatmaps — all thanks to their partnership with PubNub. This IaaS platform helps you build engaging remote experiences using in-app location tracking.

Clustering options

Whether you’re building an app for fleet management, traveling, or just day-to-day navigation needs, it’s important to fill the map with all the necessary locations. That’s where markers come in handy.

But as the number of markers grows, they might overlap with each other, making the map look cluttered. Even worse: critical information might get buried under tons of markers. Mapbox addresses this issue with Supercluster - a geoclustering feature that enables hierarchical clustering and spatial indexing.

Superclustering is one of the key differentiators of Mapbox

Sure, Google Maps API offers some solutions, too. But they have much fewer styling options than Mapbox API does.

High level of customization

Mapbox Studio, a platform for creating custom map styles, is like a box of Lego bricks for developers. You can add or hide objects, accommodate layers to your needs, change fonts, colors, or even customize a map UI based on your brand style — all in a few clicks. Though Google Maps provides some level of adaptability, too, it is a bit trickier since the platform forces the use of the ground layer.

Great performance and interactivity

If your app handles large arrays of data per second, look no further than Mapbox, which relies on vector tiles (a way to deliver geographic data in small chunks to a browser or other client app) and 3D rendering technology. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of both dynamic and static apps: you’ll have dynamic and interactive maps, which load and render faster or otherwise show better performance. Isn’t this precisely what every digital map user expects?

Offline mode

Mapbox API can operate offline without limitations, which might come in handy for hiking solutions, for instance. This means that when there’s no connectivity, you can download maps for the selected areas. You can even reduce the download size, making Mapbox the go-to option for devices with limited storage. Plus, Mapbox caches tiles when used online.

The open-source mindset

One of the key reasons why Mapbox is more cost-effective than other solutions is that it’s, in fact, a compilation of open-source SDKs. It shares its code on GitHub and supports a community of talented volunteer mappers. Since anyone can see, analyze, and improve Mapbox, the API is regularly updated and enhanced with the freshest location data. Besides, their documentation is open-source, too.

Cons

  • Poorer coverage. As an open-source solution, Mapbox relies on collective mapping and data sources from other location services, which results in the poorer representation of some regions like India, Israel, and China. So, if your audience resides in these or other locations represented worse, consider using alternatives.
  • Requires some learning curve. Working with Mapbox implies abiding by strict rules, which requires getting used to them but still pays off in the long run. Thus, if you opt for this digital map provider, be ready to allocate some time and resources to train your developers or outsource API integration to a vendor with a solid Mapbox experience.
  • Might disrupt background processes. This is just the price you pay for exceptional performance added to the dynamic experience.
  • Pricing. Though Mapbox is an open-source API, it’s not completely free. Still, for large projects, it’s a much more cost-effective option than Google Maps API.

The bottom line

Though Mapbox is very similar to Google Maps, it offers features the latter does not and vice versa. All in all, you might find Mapbox API to be your option in the cases when:

  • You are building something absolutely unique and looking for a highly customizable solution.
  • Your map is brimming with points of interest, which you want to cluster in a unique style.
  • The excellent performance of your digital map is crucial for your business.
  • Your app (say, an app for hiking) is supposed to be used offline.
  • The open-source approach is critical for you.
  • Your team (in-house or outsourced) knows how to use Mapbox API to implement seamless integration.

Despite their differences, Mapbox and Google Maps APIs have many things in common. One of them is the fact that both are among many apps that use OpenStreetMap (OSM) data for their maps. Speaking of which, OSM has its own API, making it worth mentioning here. So, what is OSM exactly, and why should you consider Mapbox as a map API for your app?

OpenStreetMap API review

Both Mapbox and Google Maps API use OpenStreetMap (OSM)

OpenStreetMap is a non-commercial, community-powered mapping project launched in the UK in 2004. OSM rests upon the Wiki principle: volunteers from around the globe contribute to the project by adding essential information to the map, such as points of interest, streets, or even entire cities. The end goal is to create the most accurate map in the world.

The key advantage of OSM API is that it is open-source and absolutely free. Besides, since the project is not commercial, the map will surprise you with detailed information on less popular places, making it a decent solution for businesses that operate in those areas.

Meanwhile, there are certain downsides to it. The biggest one is that the map has limited functionality, even the basic one, making you extremely dependable on third-party APIs. Additionally, you might be blocked with excessive queries.

Mapbox vs. Google Maps: Pricing

No matter how many advantages a solution offers, the price can be a deal-breaker if it’s too high. Since OpenStreetMap API is free-to-use (or more precisely, you will have to calculate the total cost for all third-party integrations based on your project needs), we’ll focus on the Mapbox and Google Maps prices. Both companies have tricky pricing strategies, making an easy, straightforward comparison impossible.

Google MapsMapbox
Free offeringsMobile Native Static and Dynamic Maps, as well as Embed API, are free up to 500K of call. Besides, there is a $200 monthly credit that covers:

Up to 28,000 Dynamic Maps loads
Up to 100,000 Static Maps loads
Up to 40,000 Directions calls
Up to 40,000 Geolocation calls
Etc.

Note that one page load might include several types of requests.
Free monthly plan that covers:

Static Images API: 50K calls/month
Vector Tiles API: 200K calls/month
Static Tiles API: 200K calls/month
Directions API: 100K calls/month
Tileset storage: 50GB/month
Data set storage: 50GB/month
Etc.

Note that one page load might include several types of requests.
Regular monthly prices per 1,000 requests (consider discounts that apply after a certain number of requests)Static Maps: $2.00
Dynamic Maps: $7.00
Static Street View: $7.00
Dynamic Street View: $14.00
Static Images API: $1.00
Vector Tiles API: $0.25
Static Tiles API: $0.50
Raster Tiles API: $0.25
Etc.
High-volume discounts20% discount beginning from 100K of requests. For volumes that exceed 500K, contact sales for an individual pricing plan.Two levels of discounts: 20% and then 25% beginning from a certain number of requests. For volumes that exceed the 25% limit, contact sales for an individual pricing plan.

As you can see, startups with a limited client base can go pretty well with Google Maps API pricing since the number of their monthly requests won’t exceed the limit.

At the same time, the Mapbox enterprise pricing plans with their large free limits, budget-friendly rates, and more generous discounts can be a wise decision for big projects and all those who are planning to scale.

Other Map APIs to consider

What maps should you choose for an app if Google Maps, Mapbox, and OSM aren't a fit?

Though the digital mapping industry is brimming with solutions of various types and purposes, most companies focus on the three options we’ve discussed. Still, there are other maps worth considering in particular cases. These include (but not limited to):

  • Bing Maps API. Microsoft’s answer to Google Maps. In an effort to compete with Google, the company is constantly adding new features to the product, such as interactive and static maps, geocoding, route and traffic data, 3D imagery, etc. Bing maps are more user-friendly than Google and offer a higher resolution of images. Still, its functionality is limited compared to the competitor, and it can be used on desktop only.
  • HERE. The closest thing to Bing (Bing street mapping is based on HERE maps’ data), but unlike the latter, it’s available for Android and iOS and offers flexible pricing plans. The mapping services provider collects data from over 200 countries and is updated every day. Besides, their geocoding comprises 300 million addresses from 65 different countries.
  • Baidu. If you plan to operate in China, chances are you’re bound to decide between local APIs. In the field of digital mapping, Baidu Maps is an indisputable winner. Simply put, it’s the “Chinese version” of Google Maps. Being the most popular mapping service in China, Baidu Maps offers functionality similar to Google’s: street maps, street view, satellite imagery, and even indoor view.
  • Waze. This one rules the transportation and logistics domain. It stands out by crowdsourcing traffic information and prides itself on giving up-to-minute updates on accidents, roadwork, and speed traps. Besides, it’s 100% free.
  • Leaflet. It’s a lightweight (39KB), open-source JavaScript library for building interactive maps with simplicity, usability, and performance in mind. As for its API, the company claims they don’t try to do everything for everyone but focus on making basic things work perfectly. Oh, and the limited functionality can be enhanced with plugins.

Since the listed services either do not have all the features necessary for most on-demand apps or have restricted geography, they are less widely used and can’t be considered full-fledged Google Maps and Mapbox competitors. Still, every business case is individual, and sometimes these can be better (and more cost-effective) alternatives.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Map API

When choosing maps for an app, consider the number of users, geography, and the necessary functions

Now that you (hopefully) have a clearer picture of each of the three services (Google Maps, Mapbox, and OpenStreetMap) and are aware of the alternatives, you can make a choice to accommodate your particular case.

The criteria below will help you define what you need exactly:

  • Map functionality necessary for your business type. This consideration is crucial. For example, if you are a ridesharing company, an app providing turn-by-turn directions is vital. Still, in case your business doesn’t require additional functions, there’s no need to pay for requests — going for a free-to-use OpenStreetMap API is best.
  • Number of app users. The other important factor to be considered is the size of your current (and planned) user base. For instance, Google Maps and Mapbox have limits for free views. Thus, if you are a small company, you’ll probably be able to squeeze into Google’s free monthly limit. For larger projects, it’s recommended to consider options like Mapbox.
  • Geography. Before choosing a map API, remember to check it for coverage and availability in your area.
  • Expertise. Make sure that your in-house team is familiar with the service enough for integration or that you have outsourcing options with appropriate expertise. Besides, look for APIs with clear documentation, especially when it comes to less popular options.

Certainly, these factors only scratch the surface and do not cover all the aspects of choosing a map API for integration. But they will give you a better idea of what you need.

What’s next?

Okay, let’s admit: choosing the right map API is tough. Luckily, you’re not alone on this battlefield.

At Acropolium, we’re ready to have your back anytime you need help. We’ve been providing end-to-end logistics and supply chain development services since 2003. And because so many apps we’ve delivered offer the navigation functionality like vehicle tracking and transportation management software, we know precisely what seamless map API integration looks like.

Depending on the expertise you need, we’re happy to offer our services. We can conduct system audits and define a solution that suits you best. Alternatively (or additionally), we can provide the necessary experts to complement your in-house resource and help you implement the map API integration. All you have to do to start the conversation is contact us.