A few of years ago we took a vacation to New York City and Montreal. We were taking the subway so often, I switched to Google Maps for its transit directions. I’ve been using Google Maps exclusively ever since.
Until now, there were very few reasons to go back to Apple Maps. Apple has been playing catch-up. Why use a product that is only adding features from a competitor, but not anything new?
This week Apple rolled out a unique feature that’s interesting to me: ChargePoint integration to find charging locations for electric cars. Ryan Christoffel covers it at MacStories:
Having spent several years building partnerships to ensure its data won’t lead any drivers astray, Apple has more recently been able to focus on integrating data that’s less important, but still quite useful. A few months ago we saw the company team up with Parkopedia to improve parking data, and now charging stations are a natural next step.
I rarely need this — and the ChargePoint app itself has more detail, such as how many spots are actually available — but I’m excited about it as a new feature. I hope that it represents a fundamental improvement across the maps platform. I’m putting Apple Maps back on my home screen for a while.
iOS already ships with a mapping framework from Apple that all apps can use, so why did we ignore it in Sunlit and use Mapbox instead? Two main reasons:
Custom map colors. I was interested in creating beautiful new maps that would give Sunlit a unique design. Maps in every other iOS app look exactly the same. Sunlit is automatically more distinctive just by choosing something different, and we barely scratched the surface of the customization that is possible on Mapbox.
Direct web API. Mapbox gives you access to your maps not just in a native iOS map view, but also over the web. For the story backgrounds in Sunlit, we grab rendered maps directly with an HTTP call. This is a lot simpler and faster than having to build an interactive map view and snapshot it.
It also helped that I’ve been following the cool stuff Mapbox has been doing ever since Justin Miller joined their team a few years ago. I could tell this was a company that wanted to push the technology of maps forward. Apple needs to spend all their time building a viable alternative to Google Maps — driving directions, business locations, better search. But I don’t care about any of those things in my app. For Sunlit I want to use a framework from people who clearly love maps, and I think that’s Mapbox.