How is Google Maps changing and what might this mean for prolific users?
Google announced the launch of their new Google Maps platform last week, as well as a new pricing structure for organisations making use of the Google Maps APIs to deliver customised maps, routes and places experiences for their users.
The new pay-as-you-go model
In line with many cloud computing providers, the Google Maps API will move to a pay-as-you-go pricing structure from 11th June 2018.
Update, Wed 27th June: Google is giving developers an extra month of lead time. While the product updates rolled out on 11th June, the new pricing will take effect on 16th July.
The newly-named Google Maps platform is being brought under the Google Cloud umbrella and consists of three core products: Maps (for delivering customised dynamic maps, street views and 360° views), Routes (directions and traffic) and Places (location names, addresses, reviews etc). Each has its own pricing structure which you can find in the Google Maps Platform pricing table.
The first $200-worth of API calls are free
The new pricing strategy employed by Google for their maps platform is a freemium one – all users get to make $200-worth of API calls for free each month. That works out as, for example:
up to 28,000 free loads of dynamic maps
up to 100,000 free loads of static maps
up to 40,000 free Directions calls
up to 40,000 free geolocation calls
Importantly, the new pricing system allows unlimited free use of simple dynamic maps in embeds and mobile native apps. So, if you’re just serving users a simple map with a marker, say to show your office location, you’ll continue to pay nothing under the new system. However, if you use the embed API in directions, views or search mode, you will be eligible for billing.
And, as TPXimpact’s Callam Williams says; that’s where things can start to get very expensive, very quickly: “If you update the map with any new location details, that counts as a separate call. So if you’ve got something that loads a map, alongside an address search using autocomplete, and provides geolocation services for directions or distances; that’s three separate API calls on page load. Autocomplete makes a call for every letter typed in the search bar and again when you select a location; then when you add directions to the nearest location, that’s another.”
No more API calls without billing details
As of June 11th, calls to the various Google Maps APIs which don’t include an API key will return an error or a watermarked map (‘for development purposes only’). So, even if your usage falls well within the free $200 credit, you still have to create an account and provide Google with billing details to keep using the APIs.
You can set usage caps at $200 per month to ensure you won’t get charged, but for organisations who were previously using a variety of maps for free, updating all their implementations to use an API key could be a major headache.
Google grants can be used against Maps charges
Eligible not-for-profit organisations, as well as some startups, crisis response organisations and news media companies, can apply for extra free Maps credits. See if you’re eligible for Google for Nonprofits.
Free alternatives to Google Maps
Even if you deliver fairly basic map functionality using the Google Maps platform, if you serve a high volume of users you could find yourself forking out substantial sums under the new pricing model. Organisations which provide info on lots of events, properties or businesses (estate agents spring to mind) might find free, open-source alternatives to Google Maps worth considering.
Don’t-be-evil-o-meter status: amber
Google announced an end to keyless use of the Maps API a couple of years ago, but the new pricing plan, and the requirement to add billing details to get an API key, come with much less warning. While you can set up usage caps to stop going over the $200 limit, what happens to businesses that now have to pay e.g. $700 a month for a service they used to get for free? They have 45 days to find the money or change services.