Google Maps is the first worldwide mapping service that comes to mind when choosing the right map integration. It has earned the trust of web, iOS, and Android developers around the world. Google Maps is easy to integrate with APIs and can serve so many use cases, providing interactive maps for your website, location-based service for taxi and travel services, and navigation tools for huge logistics platforms.
Smaller websites and apps not generating many map views aren’t likely to reach the 28,000 per month limit. But what if your web or mobile solution actively uses more sophisticated Google Maps services? For example, what if you use Dynamic Maps, which allow for user interactions? In that case, your site or app is likely to face a cost increase.
Are there any Google Maps alternatives? We wanted to figure out if Mapbox is a worthy Google Maps replacement given the high cost of Google Maps. Before we dive into our findings, let’s begin with defining what Mapbox is.
What is Mapbox?
Mapbox is one of the largest providers of custom designed maps for websites and mobile apps. Their service is used by GitHub, Pinterest, Foursquare, and other popular companies. And Mapbox moves with the times, offering advanced features such as geospatial mapping and augmented reality (AR).
The majority of data Mapbox uses is openly available, and Mapbox supports a community of volunteer mappers. They often provide the freshest updates, including fast-changing location data. Mapbox data sources include OpenStreetMap (OSM), USGS, Landsat, Natural Earth, and OpenAddresses.
The platform uses OpenStreetMap as the base map and lets developers add different markers, lines, polylines, and polygons as well as layers from external sources (in GeoJSON, GPX, and other formats).
If you're seeking privacy-friendly alternatives to Google Maps, check out how to use Mapbox securely.
Mapbox offers many tools to help you integrate maps and other Mapbox online web mapping services – such as Directions, Geocoding, and Static Images – into a mobile app. In order to keep the Maps SDKs for iOS and Android small, Mapbox provides different APIs for interfacing with Mapbox web services: the Mapbox Directions API, Geocoding API, and Static Images API.
What do Google Maps and Mapbox have in common?
Google Maps and Mapbox share lots of features. Let’s take a look at some similarities between these tools:
Extremely customizable interfaces. Both services offer visual editors for styling. However, you’ll have to use some technical approaches to implement them. Check out how to create a custom style with Google Maps here and with Mapbox here.
Satellite imagery. Google has some advantages on this front, but they’re barely perceptible. At the moment, Mapbox Satellite is a global base map playing the role of a blank canvas or an overlay for your own data. Mapbox Satellite Streets aggregates Mapbox Satellite data with vector data from Mapbox Streets, which is an all-round set of road, label, and POI data.
Pros and cons of using Google Maps
Google Maps is a Google map-related product which is based on trustworthy navigation data and has over one billion monthly active users, making this service the most popular. Let’s pay attention to its main pros and cons:
The best information. Thanks to Google’s satellites, Street View vehicles, and user-generated corrections, Google’s geographical coverage is considered the best.
Multiple style options. The JSON-like syntax used by Google Maps is immediately loaded along with a map. You can manage the visibility, color, and opacity of all map elements.
Street View. Street View is a feature that provides interactive panoramas from different positions along lots of streets around the world. This feature can visualize Keyhole Markup Language (KML) and GeoRSS data on the map. For example, KML syntax tells Google Maps how to display geographic features such as places of interest, images, polygons, etc. and can provide everything from crime statistics to information about recent earthquakes. By integrating the Street View feature into their website or mobile app, restaurants, stores, and other service providers can let customers virtually visit their locations.
Extensive language support. Google Maps supports many languages. In 2018, Google added 39 new languages, including Swedish and Armenian, to the Google Maps software, allowing an additional estimated 1.25 billion individuals to use the service in their native language.
Information support. You can count on a large community and multiple developers providing support.
[Google Maps in Armenian]
Tricky pricing. The Google Maps pricing model is not easy to sort out. And this is the biggest catch. To attract users, Google gives each user a monthly API calls credit in the value of $200. When this amount is used up, Google begins to charge. The $200 amount will cover:
- up to 28,000 loads of Dynamic Maps; or
- up to 100,000 loads of Static Maps; or
- up to 40,000 Directions calls; or
- up to 40,000 Geolocation calls.
Seems like a great deal, right? But in fact, it’s not. Let’s say you use the Embed API in Directions, Views, and Search mode. That’s when your Google Maps service costs begin to skyrocket. If your service loads a map along with an address search using autocomplete and provides geolocation services for directions or distances, that’s three separate API calls on page load:
First call. Autocomplete makes a call for all letters typed in the search bar.
Second call. Another API call is made when a location is selected.
Third call. Directions are added to the nearest location.
Let’s imagine you’re a relatively popular events site. Your site’s event/location pages, which contain maps, are loaded 1,000 times per day (1,000 page loads, not visitors). There are also 1,000 location searches per day using the location auto-completion function. In addition, 1,000 API calls a day are made to add locations.
As a result, you’ll pay Google $245 per month (calculating for a 30-day period). If your traffic doubles, you’ll pay $690, and if it goes up tenfold, you’ll pay $3,361.
[Approximate calculation of the cost of Google Maps services for an events site]
Usage limitations. The free plan for Google Maps is limited to 10 queries per second. You have to constantly monitor your API usage to check expenditures, and if you exceed the limits, your account will be blocked.
Pros and cons of using Mapbox
Mapbox is a rapidly growing location data service which offers various mapping tools for web developers as well as for mobile ones. According to its website, the company boasts 420 million active monthly users and ensures stable support for over five billion requests per day, including from giants like Facebook and Adobe. But what about the main advantages of Mapbox over Google Maps?
Unique customization options. Mapbox is more customizable than Google Maps. While lots of mapping systems offer a finished map, Mapbox is like a box of Legos that developers can put together however they like. Mapbox allows you to create a map style that conforms to your company’s branding. Developers can set the fonts and color scheme and add functionality such as turn-by-turn directions and terrain information. This tutorial will teach you how to create a custom style.
Open-source SDKs. Mapbox Maps SDKs are open-source. Mapbox shares their code on GitHub so it can always be seen, analyzed, and improved. Many talented developers actively contribute to the code base. Mapbox Maps SDKs are based on Mapbox GL Native. This library allows you to embed interactive, customizable vector maps into native apps on multiple platforms. You can check out the tutorials for iOS, Android, and web for more information.
Integration with PubNub. Mapbox partners with PubNub, which offers infrastructure-as-a-service for live data streaming, builds dynamic map visualizations from real-time data, and incorporates functionality like asset tracking, geocoding, and heatmaps.
Mapbox AR. The Mapbox Maps SDK for Unity allows for building location-based experiences using points of interest (POIs) all over the world. You can add locations using drag-and-drop maps and POIs, 3D buildings and terrain, place-based AR, and more.
Offline maps. There’s no offline mode with the Google Maps API. More precisely, offline mode is available in the branded Google Maps app; however, it’s limited to the app itself and isn’t available via the API, so it can’t be integrated into other products. Mapbox provides more flexibility regarding its offline mode. Thanks to its use of vector maps, Mapbox supports offline functionality. Applications created with Mapbox mobile SDKs can download maps for selected geographical areas for use when the device doesn’t have network connectivity. In addition, Mapbox mobile SDKs automatically cache tiles and other resources requested during normal use.
Relatively weak coverage. There are many places where Google has better coverage than OSM based services. The reason for this is mainly the fact that Google Maps gets continuous updates. In India and Israel, for example, Google Maps will be a better option.
[Mapbox Maps on mobile]
Comparing the cost of Google Maps and Mapbox
Before Google drove up the price for their Dynamic Maps API from $0.50 to $7.00 per 1,000 loads, Mapbox had been the service with more limited free functionality. However, while Google has reduced their limits, Mapbox still provides up to 50,000 free map views a month, and every 1,000 static tile requests over this 50,000 cost only $0.50. This significant difference in price between Google Maps and Mapbox is causing many people to consider switching to the Mapbox API.
In addition, Mapbox offers custom pricing for enterprise volumes, and its free plan includes (alongside the 50,000 views and 50,000 active users a month) 50 GB of tileset storage and 5 GB of dataset storage.
When choosing between Mapbox and Google Maps, note that you’ll have to consider any costs for developers to implement APIs and customize the maps.
How to choose?
Having read our post, you know that Mapbox is equal to Google Maps in terms of functionality and even has some essential advantages. But does it really suit your business needs? Answering the following three questions will help you make the right decision:
1. What type of business am I running?
You’ll definitely need to conduct research and read more Google Maps and Mapbox reviews to find out which mapping service suits your business best. But roughly speaking, your business will benefit from Google Maps if you run a:
Street-based retail service. Street View will let customers take a virtual tour around your business.
Travel planner app. With the help of Google’s Places and detailed 3D images, you can give your users information they need for trip planning to one of 150 million places covered by the service. This information includes ratings, reviews, and contact information.
Driving app or any other app that deals with directions. Sophisticated algorithms built into Google Maps account for changes in traffic flows to notify drivers and adjust arrival times and routes. Google Maps routes are updated 25 million times per day, providing the most accurate location information.
Your business will benefit from Mapbox if you’re a/an:
On-demand delivery or logistics app. If a courier sets out on their journey to deliver a pizza but doesn’t know the destination, they can use GPS navigation. If the connection is lost along the way, Mapbox’s offline mode will help to avoid a delivery delay.
Gaming app. With Mapbox, you can easily create 3D worlds of custom maps. The Mapbox AR location platform provides a number of features to create AR games and experiences, including points of interest, live location data, and rooftop UV mapping.
Live event platform. Mapbox offers tools for asset tracking and design that will help you create interactive maps for events while incorporating real-time data. You can use these maps to show where people are and what’s happening. These tools can be used for marathons, paddle board competitions, races, and so on.
2. What’s the size of my business?
If you’re a small website or app not generating lots of map views – moreover, if you simply have a map embedded in your website as a static object – then don’t worry about the price hike for Google’s services. You aren’t likely to use up the monthly API calls credit. For those building a startup that uses maps heavily, we recommend using Mapbox.
3. What part of the world is my project focused on?
As we’ve mentioned, Google provides much better map coverage compared to Mapbox. But we suggest you check both services before making a choice. For example, Google doesn’t provide driving directions in South Korea. At the same time, AR navigation with live traffic in South Korea is supported by Mapbox.
Google is undoubtedly good, and if your business thirsts for high precision and speedy maps, we have to admit this service is beyond compare. But it’s also true that Google can unexpectedly disappoint you by starting to charge for a previously free feature, which means money losses for your business.
It’s up to you to decide which service to use. But if you decide to switch from Google Maps to Mapbox, we have some good news. As both services use similar data sources and provide similar software features, it’s easy to switch from Google Maps to Mapbox. If you choose Yalantis as your software development partner, we’ll gladly suggest the map provider that best suits your business needs.