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Developers prefer Apple's iOS Maps SDK over Google Maps

Apple Map Kit SDK offers better performance than Google's

McKinlay also pointed out that "the current version of the [Google] SDK does not perform as well as Map Kit. [Google's] GMSMapView's frame rate is capped at 30fps, which is lower than typical for iOS and results in a slight but noticeable ‘jitter’ effect when panning and zooming the map. "Drawing of labels and POIs sometimes lags behind if you pan quickly, even on a fast device like the iPhone 5.”

Armstrong observed similar issues in Plane Finder after creating versions of the app to use either Apple’s maps or Google’s. “Overall," he stated, "the Apple maps feel nice and work really smoothly, even with thousands of planes plotted simultaneously.”"The Apple maps feel nice and work really smoothly, even with thousands of planes plotted simultaneously."

Because Google's Maps for iOS are so new, it experiences "a lot of crashing," Armstrong said. "This is getting better with each release but we needed a fallback to users contacting support. Apple Maps are also much faster as there are methods that allow geospatial queries to the map to get at certain data very quickly, these are not in Google Maps yet so there is a definite lag to the Google Map for us.”

Apple's Map Kit more mature, easier to use, more likely to stick around

Apple has been working on Map Kit for the last five years, and there's a experienced, sizable community build around using it. This ecosystem of users is useful in helping other developers to work through issues as they run into them.

Armstrong noted "the immediate benefit of Map Kit is that it is very easy to drop in some code to your app and that it is a very mature API."

He added, “the Map Kit maturity is important to us because there is a great resource of websites, forums, and peers to turn to if you have any issues. Because it is a very commonly used API there are a lot of people to turn to. We have used Apple themselves to help out with some issues. With Google Maps there are only a small numbers of developers pioneering implementation so we don’t get this.”

McKinlay added, "Because it's built in to the iOS SDK, it's quick and easy to get up and running. Adding a map to an app can be as simple as dragging and dropping it into a view in Xcode's Interface builder. And because it's part of the iOS SDK, apps using Map Kit will most likely keep working with future versions of iOS with little or no effort on the part of the developer."

The report also added that "Apple’s Maps work across most iOS devices and iOS versions with little effort needed from the developer."

Google's maps SDK neither freely open nor free for unlimited use

Google's Android is often described as offering a free and open alternative to Apple, but its Maps SDK is neither of these. The SDK is closed source that's proprietary to Google, and any developers that use it to add Google Maps to their own apps must incorporate the code into their app, wasting storage space on the device.

Apple's Map Kit is part of iOS, so every third party app that uses it shares the same code, rather than packaging a copy of it in each app installed on a device.

More problematically, Google enforces limits on the number of map transactions third party developers can use, and the company requires a valid credit card on file for developers to access its mapping APIs.

"If you run out of quota," McKinlay stated, "they just start denying requests for the rest of the day, which breaks your app--which leads to angry users. You can of course ask them nicely and hope that they'll raise your quota--but all of this is stuff you don't need to worry about with the Apple API," which has no limits on location search transactions.

Developers don't have to pick one mapping SDK

Due to the strengths and weaknesses of each, some developers might want to use both, as Armstrong does in Plane Finder, although he said he doesn't really recommend that approach.

After running into serious issues at the launch of Apple Maps related to missing and incorrectly placed map labels, Armstrong saw his app plunge from five stars down to three in App Store ratings. "Twenty percent of our daily support emails were also on this issue," he noted.

But moving to Google Maps wasn't a straightforward panacea. In addition to being slower and buggier, the missing features in Google's SDK meant that "the [app] features we would have to remove would take our app back a year or so in development and we would also have a backlash from our user base."

Moving to Google's SDK, or implementing in in parallel with Apple's Map Kit, is only something the two developers recommend in specialized cases where Google's search or mapping detail offers a significant advantage, such as the more detailed coastlines that are important in Armstrong's Ship Finder app (below).

"The Google SDK is clearly not designed to be a drop-in replacement for Map Kit,” McKinlay noted. “Its API is more closely related to the existing Google Maps Javascript and Android APIs. The parts of an app's code which interact directly with the map need to be rewritten. Map Kit offers the better developer experience at present. It's more mature, seems to perform better, and is easier to set up and use. There's also a lot more documentation, sample code, and tutorials available for Map Kit.”

Additionally, the report noted that Apple's new transit routing system in iOS 6 Maps (depicted below) "continues to generate significant download traffic" and that "the release of the Google Maps iOS app late last year does not appear to have significantly affected the level of referrals to the app from Apple’s Maps."

Future plans for mapping

Both Apple and Google are actively working to refine their competitive maps offerings. Apple still needs to improve upon its location data and searching savvy, two strengths of Google that attracted Apple into its partnership with the company in the original Maps.

Conversely, Google needs to improve upon its expertise in building and maintaining platforms. Since launching Android as a competitor to iOS several years ago, the company has seen remarkably little progress in wooing away developers or in building a functional, self sustaining software market.

Despite the various licensees of Android now claiming a collective majority in smartphone market share compared to iOS, Apple still dominates virtually every measure of actual use, from video consumption to mobile web browser share to app and media sales and even online shopping statistics.

More details on where Apple and Google plan to take maps should appear this summer as Apple hosts its WWDC event detailing iOS 7 and Google outlines its future plans at its own I/O developer conference.