Google Updates Its Google Maps API for Better Android Maps

The Maps apps war between Google, Apple and Nokia continues as Google makes its maps even more user-friendly on Android mobile devices.

Google has updated its Google Maps Android API to bring more features to maps on Android devices, including improved designs for larger displays and additional layers to show terrain, traffic and more.

The move continues to raise the bar for Google Android, Apple and Nokia in the mobile device competition as the companies fight to improve their maps apps for map-hungry users.

The new Google Maps Android API "features vector-based maps that load quickly and enables users to easily navigate 2D and 3D views, and tilt and rotate the map with simple gestures," according to a Dec. 3 post by Andrew Foster, senior product manager for Google Maps, on the Google Geo Developers Blog.

"With the new version of the Google Maps Android API, developers can utilize Google Maps to its fullest," wrote Foster. The updated Version 2 of the API incorporates several features that Google Maps app developers had been requesting, according to Foster, including:

  • more dynamic and flexible user interface designs for large-screen Android devices, such as tablets, using Android Fragments;
  • being able to add more Google Maps layers into apps, such as satellite, hybrid, terrain and traffic, and to build indoor maps for many major airports and shopping centers; and
  • the ability to create map place markers and map information windows using less coding.

"Some of our favorite apps already use Google Maps, such as Trulia, Expedia Hotels and FlightTrack," wrote Foster. "Soon, when you upgrade to the latest version of these apps, you'll experience the new API and maps as rich as those in Google Maps for Android."

The 3D-map capabilities are very stylish, with different angles visible in buildings in the maps and views down streets from all angles, making them even more useful.

More than 800,000 Websites around the world use Google Maps APIs so far, according to Foster.

Version 2 of the API is now distributed as part of the Google Play services SDK, which can be downloaded with the Android SDK Manager.

Mobile maps are a very popular category with mobile-device users. When Apple dumped Google Maps in iOS 6 and ran into lots of user complaints in September, company executives began scrambling to fix their maps app—a process that still continues today. Apple even went through an executive change over the maps fiasco, and is trying to make up lost ground.

Nokia, which has been an avid fan of mobile maps, announced in November that it is bringing out a free, cloud-based "Here" mapping service for iOS users and will follow that up in 2013 with an SDK for Android devices. Nokia is also partnering with Mozilla to build a mobile Web version of Here Maps for the Firefox browser in 2013.

While Nokia misjudged a few things in the early days of smartphones, it understood well the need for good mapping and navigation software on mobile devices. In 2007, it acquired Navteq, a navigational software company, for $8.1 billion. In 2010, in response to Google Maps on Android devices, it began offering its turn-by-turn navigation service—which it had been selling for a few dollars a day, and which offered driving as well as walking information, and maps with points of interest in hundreds of cities—for free to its users.

With the introduction of its newest Lumia phones in September, Nokia added to what has become a suite of mapping software, showing off City View, an application that works through the phone's camera. A user simply points the camera and is given real-time information regarding much that comes into the frame, from restaurants to bus stops.