Mapping APIs - Google Maps vs Bing Maps: Part 2 Licensing

For our blog series on comparing the two mapping developer API’s we thought we should start with one of the most important aspects, licensing. This is going to be tricky to compare as we are not allowed to publish the exact commercial pricing for either platform. We will try and give as much information as we can to still be a useful and valid comparison.

Licensing is a tricky subject and the terms for each API are written in pure legalese. We will try to identify and compare the key points using our understanding of each licensing agreement.

When comparing the APIs we will highlight key differences with green highlighting.

UPDATED: We have updated some information about the differences in SLA, thanks for the feedback readers

Free Usage

Often the first question asked is “can we use them for free”, well since November the quick answer for both platforms is yes, as long as you don’t use too much.

Google Maps

  • free for use on “public facing” websites (i.e. a site that doesn’t charge for access to the maps). There is limit on how many map loads you can use but its not published and said to be at Google's discretion
  • can be used for commercial usage (where the site makes money)
  • free on the understanding advertising may be shown on your map (with 90 days notice)
  • free on the understanding any data you display on the maps, Google has the right to re-use in marketing etc as shown in the terms; “you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute Your Content through the Service and as search results through Google Services.”
  • No Service Level Agreement – if it goes offline you have no comeback
  • The terms of the agreement can change at any time without warning, meaning it might not be free tomorrow
  • Gives you access to both the ajax mapping api and mapping related web services
  • Cannot be used for real time navigation (sat-nav) due to 3rd party license agreements
  • Can we used for asset tracking but only for a service that is free to end users

Bing Maps

  • Free for use on “public facing” websites for up to 125,000 map page loads per year or 500,000 map transactions (1 transaction is 8 map 256 pixel square map tiles or one address lookup) per annum
  • Free to use if you can prove that you are a not for profit organisation or educational organisation (we would strongly suggest you check the terms and conditions to ensure that your organisation qualifies)
  • can be used for commercial usage (where the site makes money)
  • No Service Level Agreement – if it goes offline you have no comeback
  • The terms of the agreement can change at any time without warning, meaning it might not be free tomorrow
  • Gives you access to both the ajax mapping api and mapping related web services
  • Any data you “submit” to bing maps you give a license to Microsoft to re-use, however this does not cover data etc hosted by yourself or a thrid party, only data hosted by Microsoft on your behalf.
  • free on the understanding advertising or search box may be shown on your map at some point in the future
  • Does not include Bings “birds eye imagery” due to the licensing agreement between Microsoft and its birds eye imagery suppliers
  • Cannot be used at all for fleet or asset tracking without a commercial license (see below)
  • Cannot be used for real time navigation (sat-nav) due to 3rd party license agreements

Commercial Licensing

If you want to use the maps more than is offered by the free licensing, or want to use a feature no available under the free license you will need to pay for a license. Although we cannot give the pricing details for either API we can compare a few features and comment generally about how the licensing works.. Should you wish to enquire about commercial usage in the UK you may want to contact Grey Matter who organize licensing for Microsoft in the UK (or call us but we generally offer advice and are not a licensing reseller).

One important question often asked is does commercial licensing mean you get better imagery or a faster service than the free offerings? For both API’s the answer is no, whether free or commercial you are using the exact same service.

Google Maps

  • Covered by an uptime Service Level Agreement (SLA) but only of the map and imagery, not the geocoding services etc
  • Available on a sliding price scale with each level including a maximum number of map page loads per annum for a fixed cost
  • Available for use on private websites
  • Guaranteed no adverts added to the maps without your permission

Bing Maps

  • Covered by an uptime Service Level Agreement (SLA) for all services
  • Lots of ways of licensing including pricing scale for maximum number of map page loads (same as Google), PayAsYouGo useful for sites with initially unknown usage or very low volume sites.
  • From Earthware’s experience the entry price for maximum map page load bundles is considerably lower for Bing than Google
  • Guaranteed no adverts added to the maps without your permission

Conclusion

“Enough waffling” I here you cry “just tell us which ones better!”. As we said in our introduction to this series we will not be declaring a winner for each comparison we will leave that up to you.

So in conclusion both API’s now have very similar free offering, although Google’s has no published usage limits so if you want to use it free and have over 125,000 map transactions a year then you might want to consider using Google over Bing however there is no clear guidelines from Google on what their free limit actually is. On the commercial side if you are looking for a lot of flexibility to met your specific projects licensing requirements then give Bing Maps a try as they appear to be more flexible.

One last observation is to be careful when using the free licensing. Free is unlikely to be free forever without some changes. Google have a world leading advertising network but so far have not tried too hard to make advertising really work on all their mapping platforms, however its anyone's guess how long that will last, Bing maps has never really tried any map advertising at all, but that doesn’t mean they won’t in future. Either way if you are planning a business model for your site that relies on free mapping for the medium to long term be very careful as we have no doubt free won’t be free forever (or at least not as it is currently).

You can check out all the licensing information at the following links: