TOP 10 MOST USEFUL MAPPING APIs
The popularity of digital maps and the use of digital mapping tools have grown rapidly in recent years. While Google is still the leader when it comes to maps, there are now many other companies in the map technology industry. The immense popularity of digital maps should not be surprising; maps can be useful, informative, beautiful and fun.
The APIs that made it to our top 10 mapping APIs list offer a wide range of capabilities. Many of these APIs provide similar functionality, while some offer unique features. Among these platforms and APIs you can find mapping capabilities that include interactive and static maps, animated maps, geocoding, travel and transit directions, elevation data, traffic flow and more. The APIs also scored well against a diverse set of criteria:
- Ease of use
API popularity is determined using a variety of metrics, including ProgrammableWeb followers, GitHub activity, Twitter activity and search engine popularity based on Google Trends.
1) Google Maps
API Documentation URL: https://developers.google.com/maps
Live Demos: http://www.morethanamap.com/
Google is still the undisputed king when it comes to digital maps. According to Nielsen, the Google Maps smartphone app sees an average of more than 79 million unique users per month, and that’s just the smartphone app. There is also an official Google Maps desktop app, not to mention the millions of third-party applications that use Google Maps APIs.
Google provides very detailed API documentation as well as code samples, libraries, SDKs and other digital mapping tools. There is also an API picker that developers can use to find the right mapping API for their projects.Google is continuously adding new features and improvements to Google Maps, which helps ensure that the company remains the king of digital maps well into the future.
2) Microsoft Bing Maps
API Documentation URL: http://www.microsoft.com/maps/choose-your-bing-maps-API.aspx
Microsoft Bing Maps is a very popular mapping platform, although it has a long way to go before reaching the immense popularity of Google Maps. Microsoft is steadily working on adding new features and improvements to the Bing Maps Platform. The company recently announced the addition of new Street side cities and high-resolution aerial imagery on Bing maps as well as new 3-D cities on the Bing Maps Preview app.
As Microsoft adds more features and functionality to the Bing Maps platform, developer adoption and the overall popularity of Microsoft Bing Maps should grow steadily.
3) Open Layers
API Documentation URL: http://openlayers.org/
Live Demos: http://openlayers.org/en/v3.2.0/examples/
The documentation for OpenLayers is well-organized and provides a lot of information for developers. A gallery on the OpenLayers website contains a large selection of live demos, and quite a few code samples are available on GitHub.
Open Layers Track this API is a popular mapping library largely due to its open source license and ability to pull tiles from other mapping platforms.
API Documentation URL: https://developer.foursquare.com/
The Foursquare API provides programmatic access to the Foursquare places database, merchant platform and venues service. Many developers use the Foursquare API to incorporate the venues platform into their application, which is then used as the app’s location database.
The Foursquare API Track this API documentation is thorough and well-organized, and a lot of client libraries are available. The client libraries were not created by Foursquare; they were built and released by members of the Foursquare API community.
In July of last year, the company split Foursquare into two separate apps: Foursquare became a mobile phone Yelp app, and the check-in app was Re-branded and launched as Swarm. While both apps seem to be doing fairly well at this time, the future of the Foursquare app and Foursquare API is unclear.
5) Open Street Map
API Documentation URL: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/API
Live Demos: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/List_of_OSM_based_Services
Open Street Map is a project maintained by a large group of volunteers that create and distribute geographic data for the world for free. A lot of applications, such as Watercolor by Stamen, Hitch Wiki and Open Weather Map, use Open Street Map data.
The Open Street Map API Track this API does not embed a map into a webpage; it allows raw geo data to be retrieved and/or saved to the Open Street Map database. The API documentation is thorough, although the information is contained on a wiki page. Open Street Map represents physical features such as commercial buildings and railways using tags, and each tag describes a geographic attribute. Open Street Map has a lot of map features, including amenities, building, highways, places, shops and waterways.
API Documentation URL: http://developer.mapquest.com/
Live Demos: http://demos.mapquest.com/
MapQuest offers a nice selection of digital mapping products, including the MapQuest.com website, MapQuest Mobile, MapQuest Local, MapQuest Enterprise and MapQuest Developers. There are two versions of the MapQuest platform: Licensed and Open Data. The Licensed Data platform is available with a MapQuest Enterprise Edition license, and the Open Data platform is available with a Free and Open license. It should be noted that Open Street Map is the primary source of data for the MapQuest Open Data Platform.
MapQuest was founded back in 1967, long before Google even existed. MapQuest began offering digital mapping products for some time before Google launched Google Maps in 2005. The MapQuest platform is well-established and reliable, and it powers millions of MapQuest.com visitors and MapQuest app users.
7) Map box
API Documentation URL: https://www.mapbox.com/developers/api/
Live Demos: https://www.mapbox.com/mapbox.js/example/v1.0.0/
Map box provides a suite of digital mapping tools that allow custom maps to be quickly and easily added to applications. The Map box platform is open source and features textures, illustrations, custom markers, vector tiles, static maps, geocoding and more. Map box offers five plans, ranging from a free starter plan to a high-volume enterprise plan.
Mapbox provides APIs, SDKs and other tools that developers can use to add dynamic maps and Mapbox technology to their applications. The platform also features Mapbox Editor, an online editor that allows users to quickly build custom maps using their own data. Data can be imported from a spreadsheet file (CSV), GeoJSON, KML or GPX. The API documentation is well-designed and easy to follow. Mapbox also provides a lot of live demos and code samples that developers can use as a starting point for their applications.
While Map box is relatively new compared to Google Maps (Map box was founded in 2010), the company has been working hard at adding new functionality and engaging features to help set it apart from other digital mapping companies.Track this API.
API Documentation URL: http://cartodb.com/develop
Live Demos: http://cartodb.com/gallery/
Car toDB is an open source mapping, analysis and visualization engine that allows developers to create Web and mobile geo spatial applications. Car toDB was launched in April 2012 and since then has gained a number of high-profile users, including National Geographic, NASA, The Guardian UK and Twitter. Car toDB offers several plans that range from a free basic plan to a feature-packed enterprise plan.Track this API
The popularity of Car to DB has grown very quickly despite the relative newness of the platform. One of the most popular features of the Car to DB platform is Torque, an animated visualization that shows changes in location data over time. Features like Torque visualization help to distinguish Car to DB from other digital mapping and Geo spatial platforms.
9) Esri ArcGIS
Live Demos: https://developers.arcgis.com/en/#visualization-demo
Eris (Environmental Systems Research Institute) was founded back in 1969 and was originally a research group that analyzed geographic information for land-use planning. In 1996, Eris released Map Objects, its first platform for publishing maps on the Internet. Today Eris focuses primarily on enterprises and offers a complete GIS platform that includes the Arc GIS cloud-based mapping platform, Arc GIS for Desktop, Eris City Engine and Eris Map Studio (see the complete list). While Esri focuses on the commercial GIS market, the company does offer a free GIS viewer for consumers called Arc GIS Explorer Desktop.Track this API.
Eris has a really nice portal for developers that is well-designed and easy to follow. The developer portal includes access to Arc GIS APIs and SDKs, good documentation, live demos, code samples and more. Eris offers standalone developer pricing that uses a credit system (for developers who do not have an Arc GIS online subscription). The credit pricing structure is somewhat confusing; a simpler method for pricing would be far more preferable.
According to a recent Fortune.com article, Eris technology is used by more than 350,000 organizations worldwide, and over two-thirds of them are Fortune 500 companies. The company is seeing a lot of growth in the commercial sector where Eris GIS applications are experiencing 30% growth per year.
10) Yahoo BOSS PlaceFinder
API Documentation URL: https://developer.yahoo.com/boss/placefinder/
Launched in July 2010, the Yahoo BOSS Place Finder API allows applications to pro-grammatically access the platform’s premium geo-coding Web service. The service allows developers to build applications that are “location-aware” by taking street addresses or place names and converting them into geographic coordinates. Place Finder can also perform reverse geo-coding where geographic coordinates are converted into the appropriate street addresses or place names.Track this API
The API documentation is adequate; a quick-start page helps make the Yahoo BOSS Place Finder API easy to set up and use. The price for using the API is based on the number of queries per day, and Yahoo allows developers to monetize their apps with Yahoo search advertising in the same service.
Geo-coding is a standard feature found in nearly all of the digital mapping platforms on this list. With so many feature-packed digital mapping platforms available today, Yahoo’s basic Geo-coding Web service is not as appealing to most developers as the other platforms.