Google Maps has certainly evolved a lot since its inception in the mid 2000′s. But while the Maps web and mobile applications are important in themselves, a big driving force of growth and innovation for Google Maps are the third-party applications and services that use mapping data from Google. As such, updates to its API are usually something worth watching from the point of view of both users and developers. The latest API update for Android enables app developers to utilize more data with less effort, hence resulting in more engaging location-based apps.
Google says more than 800,000 applications currently use the Google Maps API to serve geo-location data to users. These include travel sites, weather mapping apps, apartment-locators and even apps that help coordinate rescue efforts during calamities. Location data is now an essential part of a web and mobile user's daily life that Apple's sudden shift to its own mapping app and data in iOS 6 resulted in an outcry among users who found their app and data to be inadequate.
Google Maps, in contrast, keeps on improving. The latest API update for Android brings these new features that both developers and casual users will enjoy with third-party apps:
Dynamic and flexible UI designs, which support different screen sizes, particularly aimed at tablet users.
More layers in third-party apps, including satellite, hybrid, terrain, traffic information, and even indoor maps — perfect for apps that will require indoor information such as shops and establishments within buildings.
The ability to create markers and windows with reduced coding requirements.
The latest API update allows for a more fluid UI in third-party apps, which can be evident with how a user can see a three-dimensional representation of buildings in apartment-search app Trulia for Android. Expedia Hotels and Flight Track will also offer an improved user experience for Android users.
Apart from the Android Maps API update, Google Maps now has a Photo Sphere API. This enables app developers to build applications that can capture and view photo spheres — those 360-degree photos inspired by the Google Street View project.
This update is part of the new Google Play Services, and it lets app developers check if an image is a photo sphere, and then open it using the Photo Sphere viewer if it is in this format. There is no word, though, on whether Android versions prior to 4.2 will support this functionality.
Maps is already an excellent Google product, although Google's support of better functionalities in third-party apps keeps on making their data and user interface better. Competitors are likely to have a harder time catching up, although Apple seems to be scrambling to improve its own mapping implementation amid concerns of inaccuracies and lack of detail.
Check out the video a few demos and explanations on the Maps API v2.
J. Angelo Racoma is a journalist and community manager with a keen eye for emerging standards and technologies. He is passionate about the enabling nature of mobile devices in both emerging and established markets. Aside from mobile and apps, Angelo has an interest in enterprise software and technology startups as an editor for Tech Wire Asia and e27.co.
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