GPS Maker Joins Crowded Mapping API Market

Adam DuVander
Nov. 15 2012, 12:24PM EST

With navigation units already seen on dashboards worldwide, TomTom hopes to expand its influence to mobile apps and web browsers. The company launched the TomTom Maps Toolkit API and other services it hopes will encourage innovation along the spectrum of independent developers to enterprise customers. Some of its new platform will compete directly with Google and Microsoft, among many other mapping APIs.

The map display API is JavaScript-based, as is common. But unlike popular choices like the Google Maps API, TomTom also makes direct access to the tiles available to its partners. Like much of the map market, TomTom also offers additional supporting services. Its traffic and routing might be the key differentiator. Both are based on live data, some of which comes directly from its units.

TomTom's story is another tale of a big company eating its own dogfood. In order to create its route planner site, for example, it needed to create an API to display its maps in a web browser. Then existing partners began to request more customization, which led to "productizing" its tools for outside developers. This continues across its many services, with more in the works.

The team has discovered that there's more to making an API for external use than the ones TomTom employees are able to use internally. To start there's documentation, terms of service, rate limiting and developer support. "Having technology and having products are two different things," TomTom's Dan Adams said.

It's rare to see an API marketed at both independent developers and enterprises, but that's what TomTom is trying to do. Businesses and governments with GIS software from ESRI might use the TomTom bulk geocoder, while mobile developers will be more likely to use local search. One reason it may not become the go-to API for the indie dev is cost. TomTom's new APIs are free to try, with a set number of calls available to each trial account. Pricing is not published, but the company said it's on par with the industry.

There is clearly a lot of technology behind TomTom's services. It's great to see the company move from the product and software businesses to being more of a platform. Its competitor, Garmin, doesn't even use its own maps on the web. Garmin offered users a choice of Google and Microsoft, after users revolted over switching map providers.

Adam DuVander -- Adam heads developer relations at Orchestrate, a database-as-a-service company. He's spent many years analyzing APIs and developer tools. Previously he worked at SendGrid, edited ProgrammableWeb and wrote for Wired and Webmonkey. Adam is also the author of mapping API cookbook Map Scripting 101.

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