All posts tagged ‘Google Maps’

File Under: Location, Web Services

Google Dresses Up Maps With Terrain, Vegetation

Google Maps, now with better terrain shading (old version on top). Image: Google

Google Maps continues to crank out the updates; the default map view has been updated with new shading detail to convey terrain information, along with color gradations to depict vegetation and labels for natural land formations.

The amount of terrain detail shown varies depending on which part of the world you’re looking at and how far you’ve zoomed in, but for the Americas and Europe major geographic features are now shaded and labeled.

“This enriched visual data allows you to quickly and easily see where the great forests, deserts, and mountain ranges around the world begin and end,” writes Karl Johann Schmidt, Google Maps Software Engineer, on the company’s Google Maps blog. “It also conveys how natural land formations can impact where, how and why man-made developments like urban cities, dams and bridges are made.”

I’m not sure how many people (aside from us map nerds) browse Google Maps to study how and why cities and other developments came to be where they are, but there is another side effect — the basemap now looks more interesting. The slight shading for textures and the green of forests break up what was previously just vast expanses of white. And in my testing on the desktop, mobile and Android Maps app the new visual overlays did not make Google Maps noticeably slower.

The new terrain features in the basemap aren’t anywhere near as detailed as the terrain overlays that can be added from the Google Maps menu widget, but they do add more information to the default map, which is likely the only map most users ever see.

File Under: Web Services

Google Drops the Price of Google Maps

Google Maps versus Apple's new custom maps on iOS.

After several high-profile defections, Google is backpedaling somewhat on its coming fees for using the Google Maps API. The company has significantly reduced the charges it plans to levy on large-scale users, dropping the price from $4 per 1,000 map loads to $.50 per 1,000 map loads (once the site has passed the 25,000-a-day free limit).

The move comes after several big names — including FourSquare and Apple — publicly ditched Google Maps in favor of OpenStreetMap. While neither Apple nor FourSquare has explicitly cited the price increase as a factor in its decision, Google’s Geo Developer blog makes it clear that price was a factor for some users.

“We’ve been listening carefully to feedback,” reads the announcement, which goes on to add “some developers were worried about the potential costs.”

The vast majority of maps hackers and casual developers will probably never be affected by the coming Google Maps pricing structure since the Google Maps API will still be free for the first 25,000 views per day. According to Google only 0.35 percent of sites using the Maps API regularly exceed those limits.

Still, for developers who dream of creating a wildly successful site that does reach those traffic numbers, the Google Maps API will soon be another cost to factor into the plan. And that may be enough to dissuade some from using Google Maps. The price drops may help, but it’s going to be increasingly difficult for big services to justify even the lower price of the Google Maps API when OpenStreetMap is available for free.

File Under: Location, Mobile

iPhoto for iOS Abandons Google Maps in Favor of OpenStreetMap

Google Maps vs Apple's custom maps. Note the increased road/path detail from OpenStreetMap visible in the Apple version of this map of Vienna, Austria.

Apple has given Google Maps the heave-ho for iPhoto on iOS, Apple’s new photo management app for the iPad and iPhone. Open up a map in iPhoto for iOS and you may notice something a bit different — the familiar beige and yellow Google Maps are nowhere to be found. Instead you’ll see Apple’s homegrown maps.

The new low-contrast look for iPhoto’s map is distinctly Apple’s, but what’s more interesting is that much of the data behind the maps comes from the open source mapping project OpenStreetMap.

For those unfamiliar with it, OpenStreetMap is an open source project that maintains an editable map of the entire globe. Anyone can make edits and add data to the map, which is why it’s often called the “Wikipedia of maps.” Although OpenStreetMap has been around for some time, it’s recently become considerably more visible as part of Microsoft’s Bing Maps. Additionally some high-profile websites are starting to move away from Google Maps — like Foursquare, which recently ditched Google Maps in favor of OpenStreetMap.

Now, with iPhoto for iOS, Apple is joining the OpenStreetMap party as well.

Apple is using OpenStreetMap data to display maps around the world. OpenStreetMap developers have discovered that Apple is using OpenStreetMap data in Chile, Austria, Italy and many other countries. OpenStreetMap is not, however, being used for the United States. In the U.S. map data appears to be gleaned from a number of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and possibly the U.S. Geological Survey.

Interestingly, the OpenStreetMap data Apple is using appears to be quite old, coming from sometime around April 2010. That means that unfortunately several years worth of updates and corrections from OpenStreetMap contributors are missing from Apple’s maps. The result is a map that’s fine for something like adding location details to your vacation photos, but would likely not be accurate enough to provide navigation or directions.

In other words, don’t look for the maps in iPhoto to be the source of a revamped Maps app for iOS — in their current form these maps are just not accurate enough for navigation use.

It’s also worth noting that Apple is using OpenStreetMap data without the necessary attribution. OpenStreetMap’s Creative Commons license governing maps from 2010 requires that Apple add a notice citing the source of the data. As the OpenStreetMap blog notes, the maps are “missing the necessary credit to OpenStreetMap’s contributors; we look forward to working with Apple to get that on there.”

It’s been clear for some time that Apple is looking for a way to wean itself off Google Maps. Apple has even purchased several mapping companies, including Placebase, an online-mapping company and C3 Technologies, which creates 3D maps. Despite these moves Google Maps remain prominent on iOS. Even within the new iPhoto app Google Maps apparently still provides at least some of the data being used.

File Under: Location, Web Services

Google Plans to Charge Maps Developers

Bad news, map hackers; the Google Maps free ride may be coming to and end. The Google Geo Developers blog recently detailed some changes to Google Maps API, including new rate limits and fees. Starting next year Google Maps will charge $4 per 1,000 map loads on sites where traffic exceeds 25,000 map loads per day.

The good news is that very small sites will remain unaffected since the Google Maps API will still be free for the first 25,000 views per day (those using the Google Maps styling features will be limited to 2,500 views a day).

The bad news is that once your app or website exceeds those limits you’ll be forking out $4 for every 1,000 people that hit your site (or view a map in your mobile app). Alternately, developers can cough up $10,000+ for a Google Maps API Premier licence, which, in addition to the unlimited access offers more advanced geocoding tools, tech support, and control over any advertising shown.

Google says the new fees are intended to make sure Google Maps remains free for small developers. “By introducing these limits we are ensuring that Google can continue to offer the Maps API for free to the vast majority of developers for many years to come,” writes Google Maps API manager Thor Mitchell.

The new rates will kick in next year and are unlikely to impact small sites, which will never exceed the limits, or large sites which can afford the Premier license. The real impact is in the middle — experimental sites that do something creative with Google Maps and end up going viral. No one wants a one-off experiment to end up costing a fortune.

Fortunately, according to the FAQ, sites that exceed the limits without setting up a payment system or buying a Premier license won’t immediately be shut down. “Your maps will continue to function,” says the Google FAQ, however, “a warning may be shown on your map and a Maps API Premier sales manager may contact you to discuss your licensing options.”

In other words, Google appears to be interested mainly in collecting fees from sites with consistently heavy traffic rather than experiments that see a one-time traffic spike. It doesn’t protect against every potentially expensive use case, but it should make map mashup fans breathe a little easier.

Developers worried about the potential costs of the Google Maps API can always use OpenStreetMap, which is free and, in many parts of the world, much more detailed than Google Maps. Of course, OpenStreetMap lacks some Google Maps features, most notably an equivalent to Street View.

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File Under: Web Services

Google Maps, Now With Virtual Helicopter Rides

Fly the California coastline, without the helicopter hair

Google has announced a new 3D preview option in Google Maps. The Google LatLong blog refers to the new route preview as “helicopter view,” since it offers an aerial view (courtesy of Google Earth) of your route, a bit like taking a helicopter instead of your car.

To see the helicopter preview in action, just plug in a route and then look for the little “3D” button next to your driving directions. Don’t see a 3D button? Well, that’s the major downside at the moment — limited coverage.

As far as I’ve been able to test it doesn’t seem like the 3D preview features works much outside of popular, well-known routes (like the California coast drive featured in the LatLong Blog post).

If your route doesn’t have a 3D button, fear not, there’s nothing really new about helicopter preview, save the nice integration via the new button. Google Maps has long offered an in-browser view of Google Earth, so you can always fly over your route. It just won’t be nicely automated.

For more details on helicopter view, check out the LatLong Blog. To see it in action, try out the Carmel to Big Sur route that the LatLong team demos.

In unrelated Google news, the company is now brewing beer. That’s right, Google beer (actually brewed by the folks at Dogfish Head). There’s a promo movie about the process over on YouTube.

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