The recent news that Google Maps is making changes to its pricing policies for its Maps API products will have a major effect on the developer community — not to mention clients who want a handy map on their websites.
What makes these changes so shocking? And are there alternatives? (Tldr: The answer to the second question is, thankfully: Yes.)
The Google Maps Pricing Changes
At the heart of the changes are a drastic increase in prices and a slashing of the free usage limits.
You can now expect an increase of 14 times what you were paying for Google Maps, with a slight decrease for high volumes of use. Gone is the option to choose between Standard and Premium plans. Now, it's a single pay-as-you-go plan (with free customer service — because the option to forgo customer service is gone).
And the free usage limit per month is about 1/30th of what it was previously. You get the first $200 of monthly usage for free. Let's say you've been using Dynamic Maps. Before the change, you got 25,000 free page loads per day. Now, for that $200, you'll get 28,000 free page loads ... per month.
The prices are now the same globally, even though revenue generated differs greatly from one country and region to the next. In addition, all projects now need API keys to get high-res maps.
Viable Alternatives to Google Maps
Fortunately for companies wishing to keep maps on their websites without taking the financial hit of sticking with Google, a few alternatives are available. How do they compare to Google Maps? Take a look.
Apple Maps. While still in beta, this option looks promising, with a generous free usage allowance. You'll need an Apple developer account to test this option properly, and no commercial pricing is available yet.
Azure Maps. You pay $0.50 for 1,000 transactions, each of them consisting of 15 map tiles. If you're using other Azure services, this option may make sense. However, Azure's proprietary API makes it difficult to leave custom markers.
HERE. This map service uses bundled pricing, with $.50 for 1,000 transactions of 15 tiles as the standard bundle. This option might be best for larger sites, though not everyone likes the stark look of its maps.
Mapbox. You'll pay $.50 for 1,000 requests of between four to 15 map tiles. This payment method is less than transparent, because the number of tiles you need depends on the size of the map. If your site's responsive, the number might change with the user's screen resolution or their desire to zoom in or move the map around. With this pricing strategy, it's very difficult to estimate what your map will actually cost.
TomTom. Again, it's $.50 for 1,000 transactions of 15 map tiles each, with volume discounts that can take the price down to $.40. TomTom requires prepayment, rather than functioning on a pay-as-you-go model.
Each developer has a choice ahead: Pay the drastic increases to stick with the familiar Google Maps, or start to experiment with some of the other options that are, thankfully, available.