A Look at the Web's Most Popular API -Google Maps API

Ajay Ohri
Oct. 09 2012, 08:00AM EDT

What API is absolutely the king of popularity? It is the Maps API Web Services, a collection of HTTP interfaces to Google services providing geographic data for maps applications. While my fellow writer, Janet blogged on the launch of its next generation at MorethanaMap.com , this article is more of a nuts and bolts look at the champion of all location APIs, hoping you catch a drift of how easy it is to add geo-coded location functionality in your app,website,product!

The Google Maps API consists of the following

The Google Directions API is a service that calculates directions between locations using an HTTP request. You can search for directions for several modes of transportation, include transit, driving, walking or cycling. Directions may specify origins, destinations and waypoints either as text strings (e.g. "Chicago, IL" or "Darwin, NT, Australia") or as latitude/longitude coordinates.

The Google Distance Matrix API is a service that provides travel distance and time for a matrix of origins and destinations. The information returned is based on the recommended route between start and end points, as calculated by the Google Maps API, and consists of rows containing duration and distance values for each pair.

The Elevation API provides elevation data for all locations on the surface of the earth, including depth locations on the ocean floor (which return negative values). With the Elevation API, you can develop hiking and biking applications, mobile positioning applications, or low resolution surveying applications.

This service is generally designed for geocoding static (known in advance) addresses for placement of application content on a map; this service is not designed to respond in real time to user input, for example. Use of the Google Geocoding API is subject to a query limit of 2,500 geolocation requests per day. (User of Google Maps API for Business may perform up to 100,000 requests per day.) This limit is enforced to prevent abuse and/or repurposing of the Geocoding API, and this limit may be changed in the future without notice.

A Geocoding API request must be of the following form:

http://maps.googleapis.com/maps/api/geocode/output?parameters

where output may be either of the following values:

  • json (recommended) indicates output in JavaScript Object Notation (JSON)
  • xml indicates output as XML

A very nice documentation is available here- https://developers.google.com/maps/documentation/webservices/ You can also use it as a starting tutorial for web services.

The Google Places API, which can be used to find detailed information about places across a wide range of categories. Backed by the same database used by Google Maps and Google+ Local, the Google Places API features over 80 million businesses. But it is experimental and so you have been warned!

If you are a ninja developer you can take part in the Google Places API challenge https://developers.google.com/places/challenge/. The Google Places API allows you to tailor your place search results by including your own places and affecting place rankings with Place Bumps. Developers of the best apps will win a VIP trip to Google I/O 2013 where your app will be showcased!

Google Maps Image APIs are of two types

The Google Static Maps API lets you embed a Google Maps image on your web page without requiring JavaScript or any dynamic page loading. The Google Static Map service creates your map based on URL parameters sent through a standard HTTP request and returns the map as an image you can display on your web page.

The Google Street View Image API lets you embed a static (non-interactive) Street View panorama or thumbnail into your web page, without the use of JavaScript. The viewport is defined with URL parameters sent through a standard HTTP request, and is returned as a static image.

Google Earth

The Google Earth API is modeled after KML, so you should also consult Google's KML documentation

KML is a file format used to display geographic data in an Earth browser such as Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Maps for mobile. KML uses a tag-based structure with nested elements and attributes and is based on the XML standard.

All in all, with the collapse of Apple Maps, and not much traction in Bing Maps, Google Maps API rules the world.  Figuratively if not literally!

Ajay Ohri is the author of R for Business Analytics and likes to write on Enterprise ,Cloud and Statistical APIs with an emphasis on interviews. Follow Ajay on Google+ and connect on LinkedIn

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