MapQuest's recent entree into mobile developer tools is an interesting one. Choosing Android over iPhone means going toe to toe with Google, a familiar competitor to MapQuest on the mapping front. Mapping is logically MapQuest's turf. The company was helping people find directions online before Larry and Sergey were even in graduate school, let alone leaving to found Google. Of course, another way of looking at it is that Android is in line with MapQuest's latest push to open up mapping data.
The MapQuest dev blog post highlights the features of the Android SDK:
- Advanced routing options and ability to display the route directly on the map
- Built-in geocoding and reverse geocoding
- Smooth animation when zooming/panning
- Ability to rotate the map
- Trackball gesture detector
- Support of shape and image overlays
Since Android is an open source project spearheaded by Google, the search giant includes its mapping as a default, but external mapping library. That means it's available for others, but few developers look beyond the defaults. Yet, it appears MapQuest found some shortcomings within the defaults, which don't include routing, map rotation and some other features included in the new SDK.
At first blush, it seems strange that MapQuest went with Android over iPhone. However, even with Google as the default on iPhone, there are still a number of mapping SDKs for Apple's platform, whereas there are very few options on Android.
The real answer may be one of convenience. "We went for Android first because that was the newest one of our apps, so we had the freshest code," MapQuest's Antony Pegg said. "We built the Android app knowing we were going to create the SDK."
Creating an SDK for an open source platform goes in line with the "open" direction MapQuest has taken the last year. It released a whole suite of APIs based on OpenStreetMap (OSM) data, starting with OpenStreetMap routing in August, 2010. Now half of the 12 MapQuest APIs are based on open data.
OpenStreetMap is supported by the Android SDK, as well. "If you don't provide a key, it will use OSM," Pegg said. MapQuest frequently syncs the OSM data from the project's servers and hosts all of the imagery itself, meaning it's much faster than OSM's own servers. With an API key passed, the Android SDK uses MapQuest's standard data and imagery.
Google's place in developer mindshare usurped MapQuest's long ago. However, as the search giant looks to find ways to move advertising to developers' local apps, there may be an opportunity for some gains if one is able to "out open" Google. And maybe that's what we're seeing here.