Google Maps Android API Utility Library Gets New Developer Features

Several new data visualization features will assist developers who use the app library when building their Google Maps applications.

Google Maps Android API

The Google Maps Android API Utility Library has been updated with two key new data visualization features—marker clustering and heat maps—that are aimed at improving the tools developers have when they are building apps for Google Maps on Android.

The new tools were unveiled by Emma Yeap and Iris Uy, engineering practicum interns at Google Sydney, in a Feb. 12 post on the Google Geo Developers Blog.

The newly updated version of the Google Maps Android API Utility Library is available immediately.

The marker-clustering feature will be useful for developers when they place a lot of data on display in their apps and the appearance gets messy and cluttered, wrote Yeap and Uy. "One solution is to group nearby markers into a single marker (cluster marker)," using the new tool, they wrote. "When viewed zoomed in, individual markers are shown. However, as the user zooms out, markers group together into a single cluster marker."

Developers can also now customize the appearance of individual and clustered markers using the tool.

"Marker clustering is ideal for visualizing a large number of elements on a map whilst minimizing clutter," they wrote. "You see a concise summary of your data when zoomed out, and as the markers separate when you zoom in, you don't lose any detail from your data."

The heat maps feature offers related benefits.

"Heat maps represent geospatial data on a map by using different colors to represent areas with different concentrations of points—showing overall shape and concentration trends," wrote Yeap and Uy. "Heat maps are also known as 'intensity maps.'"

A heat map can be used to visualize any data set that has a geospatial component, such as the population of cities around the world.

Developers can learn more about the Android Maps API Utility Library by viewing its setup guide. More details on how to use the new marker clustering and heat map features are also available.

In June 2013, Google for the first time released its Google Maps Engine API to developers so they can build consumer and business applications that incorporate the features and flexibility of Google Maps. With the Maps API, developers can use Google's cloud infrastructure to add their data on top of a Google Map and share that custom mash-up with consumers, employees or other users. The API provides direct access to Maps Engine for reading and editing spatial data hosted in the cloud, according to Google.

Google is always expanding the reach of its Google Maps services.

In December 2013, Google Maps unveiled its public data program, which allows organizations to distribute their map content to consumers using Google's cloud infrastructure. The first group to join the nascent effort was The National Geographic Society, which is contributing some 500 of its spectacular map images to the public data program. Many of the National Geographic maps over time have been collected and saved by recipients, but the rest of the world can't access them when they are stored in attics and basements, so National Geographic joined the program to help disseminate their data.