Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Slow Death of the Google Maps API

I have been planning a great April Fools joke for Google Maps Mania this year. On April 1st I was going to rename this blog 'MapBox Mania' for the day. I planned to explain this decision with a blog post. The post would explain that:

  • there seems little sign of the Google Maps API team returning from their two year vacation
  • that Google no longer seems interested in developing the Google Maps API
  • at the same time the MapBox team has continued to innovate and has now become the maps API of choice for most developers. 
It would have been a funny April Fool's joke because there is more than an element of truth in the idea that MapBox and LeafletJS have usurped Google Maps as the API of choice for many map developers.

As developers increasingly turn to Google's competitors I have struggled to find my daily quota of great Google Maps based applications. This is one reason why I have been reviewing more and more maps built on other mapping platforms on Google Maps Mania.

For me the last major innovation of note from the Google Maps API team was back in June 2012 with the release of animated symbols. During that time MapBox and LeafletJS have emerged as a major players in online mapping and both seem to be continually innovating while the Google Maps API team seem to be happy just treading water.

Yesterday MapBox announced MapBox plugins, a collection of great libraries that developers can add to their maps by simply hotlinking to the source files. The libraries include a marker clustering solution, Leaflet Draw (a host of map drawing tools),  Leaflet Fullscreen and a number of other useful libraries. You can check out the plugins in action on the MapBox Examples page.

The trend in online mapping at the moment seems to be towards both ever more powerful data visualizations and towards story maps. The Guardian's In Flight – Interactive Map is a great example of both trends, using maps to visualize a lot of flight data and to also tell the story of the history of commercial flight.

It was no surprise to me that The Guardian used LeafletJS to create this interactive. I have no doubt that just 24 months ago the paper would have used the Google Maps API for this kind of mapped interactive. Not any more.

The Google Maps API is dead, long live MapBox.

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