Time to Challenge Google Maps Pricing

Polish developers Bartłomiej Owczarek and Tomasz Nawrocki of the pharmaceuticals locator service GdziePoLek.pl relied heavily on Google MapsTrack this API. Their business points patients to the closest brick-and-mortar pharmacies stocking specific medicines, so they realized quickly that Google pricing of Maps was changing frequently. They found that Google raised its Maps Platform pricing 14 times, while decreasing the free usage limit nearly 30 times, all with very little notice to its partners.

As such, they dove deep into the global mapping market by tracking the repeated pricing increases Google made to Maps. Once they recovered from the vertigo caused by the increases, they gathered together the best alternatives to Google Maps for heavy data users. Who are those competitors? Names you'll recognize: Apple Maps, Mapbox, TomTom, to name a few.

Success thanks to Google, but….

Owczarek and Nawrocki always understood that as GdziePoLek.pl grew, so would the cost for using Google Maps. Up until recently, Maps had a free usage limit of about 750 thousand map loads per month, which squared well with the revenues they were generating, and the price for commercial usage ($0.5 for 1000 map loads) was not high enough for them to consider alternatives.

Then Google sent them an email notifying them that GdziePoLek.pl had become a "high usage" client of Maps, and informing of rate changes. The price increases were huge:

  • Current free usage limit of 750k requests monthly turns into ca. 28k requests (almost 30 times less)
  • Current $0.5 for commercial usage becomes $7(14 times more), $5.60 with high volume

Importantly, there was no adjustment of the prices for international locations — GdziePoLek.pl must pay the same amount for the service used in Africa as for use in the U.S., despite the fact that revenue generation is vastly different between the two countries.

In total, the cost of their reliance on Google Maps was a monthly bill of $5,000 (from $0), with additional charges of $1,500.

How the mapping services compare

Google Maps is objectively the best product on its market, and in many regards is positioned light years ahead of its competitors. An excellent analysis of how advanced Google's maps are when compared to others in the market was published by Justin O'Beirne.

The good news is that even though maps are such an important part of the User Interface, they serve no more advanced purpose than effectively visualizing locations of pharmacies. GdziePoLek.pl does not use advanced functions, which are most likely to have proprietary APIs, such as satellite images, routes calculation, and others.

The visual quality of the maps and level of detail that they provide are what is most important in the company's area of operation, which is mostly Poland and, hopefully soon, Germany.

Map providers use different pricing models, which makes the direct comparison of prices difficult. Here is an overview of the options for paid usage (outside of the free usage allowance):

  • Google Maps — $7 for each 1,000 map loads, regardless of the map size or zooming/panning by the user ($5.60 with discount for high volume)
  • Mapbox — $0.50 for each set of 1000 "map views," which despite the name is not a map view, but a request of 4 or 15 map tiles (depending on map type), rounded up
  • Azure Maps — $0.50 for 1000 "transactions," where a transaction is equal to 15 map tiles
  • TomTom — $0.50 for 1000 "transactions" ($0.40 with highest volume discounts), where each transaction is equal to 15 map tiles
  • HERE — pricing is by bundles, where a standard bundle is $0.50 for 1000 "transactions" (15 tiles)
  • MapTiler — $0.05 for additional 1000 map tiles
  • Apple Maps — this service is still in beta and offers a generous free usage allowance, but the company has not made available any pricing information

Editor's note: the quoted pricing is what the original authors relied on to make their decision but HERE has since updated their pricing:

  • Freemium – Free access to the HERE platform to create public, private, paid, and free applications and websites with a limit of 250,000 platform transactions, 5,000 SDK active users and 250 managed assets per month. Pay-as-you-grow: $1 per additional 1,000 transactions over 250,000 transactions.
  • Pro – $449/month for access to the HERE platform to create public, private, paid, and free applications and websites with a limit of 1 million platform transactions, 5,000 SDK active users and 250 managed assets per month. This includes a monthly SLA of 99.9% and technical support via email.

Owczarek and Nawrocki find the Google model is the most transparent (leaving aside the price), because every website page view with a map on it will have the same price.

If they're paying by the map tile, as with MapTiler, the service gets more complicated. How many tiles are present on each map depends on its size, which in case of responsive sites might be different for each user, depending on the screen resolution. Apart from that, the user might move map around or zoom, drawing further tiles.

The least transparent pricing terms are those of Mapbox. Not only is it unclear how many tiles are calculated for each "map view," but how the term itself is used is misleading (other companies use "transaction"), which doesn't imply that it's a full cost per map view like with Google Maps).

From looking at pricing terms, evaluating what would be the actual daily cost for the entire site is very difficult. For example, Owczarek and Nawrocki's startup uses both small maps on pharmacies' profiles, as well as huge full-screen maps presenting search results, but only for desktop users.

Comparing services' actual daily cost

Owczarek and Nawrocki added to their web application the ability to switch map providers with a single click in the administration console. Then they watched amount of resources the site consumed daily with regards to each map provider on their short list — Google Maps, Mapbox, and MapTiler.
Comparing the actual cost for maps on a single day (amounting to 15,000 total site visits, of which not all might involve maps), Google Maps was $80, while Mapbox and MapTiler cost only $9. (The comparison is specific to GdziePoLek.pl and its usage of maps across the site, as well as screen sizes of its users, resulting in maps of different sizes.)

Google Maps has the most favorable model for users of big, intensely interactive maps, like GdziePoLek.pl, but the recent radical price increase puts the cost way higher than alternatives.

As it turned out, the cost of using Mapbox and MapTiler in our case is comparable, despite the differing billing model. Both are seasoned companies and are doing well in their market, so Owczarek and Nawrocki have decided to continue using these services in parallel.

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: How to Switch from Google Maps to Mapbox

Original Article

Farewell to Google Maps