AWS Location Service aims to rescue devs from lock-in with 'business and programming models of a single provider'

Those bitten by Google Maps price rises in 2018 will welcome alternative – but will the data be good enough?

AWS has claimed its upcoming Amazon Location Service for developers building mapping and geographic features into applications is "priced at a fraction of common alternatives," presumably aiming squarely at a company whose name rhymes with schmoogle.

Developers use mapping and location APIs for things as simple as showing a map on a website, or more complex routing or geographical analysis. Many mobile applications interact with location data for marketing, customisation, and alerts. Timetable applications query location to inform users of the next service from the nearest stop. There are countless use cases.

The biggest player in this field is Google with its Maps, Routes, and Places APIs. Google's data is based not only on research but incorporates signals from millions of users on Android or other devices, enabling real-time information on traffic delays, for example, for its Directions API.

Google raised the price of its geographic APIs in mid-2018. "Our expenses will increase 9,570 per cent," said one provider of retail location services and a WordPress plugin.

The cost of dynamic map view requests rocketed from $0.50 per 1,000 to $7.00 per 1,000, a 14x increase.

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Google's price rise piqued developers' interest in competing services such as Here, Esri, and Open Street Map. Amazon has now added itself to the list, although it will be using data from Esri and Here rather than attempting to assemble its own mapping data.

Amazon Location Service has several components. Maps is for retrieving map tiles to show in an application. Places will convert addresses to and from geographic coordinates. Tracking will follow the location of tracking-enabled applications – the example given is for delivery vehicles rather then anything more sensitive or marketing-oriented. Geofencing fires alerts when a device enters or leaves a specified location, often used for marketing. Routing, which is not yet available, will offer directions and estimated travel time based on real-time data. Location Service has been incorporated into SDKs for Android, iOS, JavaScript, and other programming languages such as Java, Python and C#.

Privacy is an issue and the docs say: "Amazon Location Service anonymizes all queries sent to data providers by removing customer metadata and account information."

AWS evangelist Jeff Barr claimed that Amazon Location is much cheaper than alternatives unshackled from "the business and programming models of a single provider," presumably with Google in mind.

AWS, for example, will charge $0.50 per 1,000 requests for geocoding an address, whereas Google charges $5.00 per 1,000. That said, AWS has no free tier beyond a three-month trial. Google has a $200 monthly credit for free usage, and Here a freemium subscription with 250,000 free monthly transactions. This means that for small users AWS may work out to be more expensive.

These providers also differ in the detail of the API and data they offer. Developers looking to switch from one provider to another will no doubt run parallel tests to ensure that their use case is equally well served; and if it turns out that the dominant provider does have better data, the lock-in is hard to escape. ®

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