The free tier for Google Maps is becoming less generous
For many startups, Google’s cloud services have been an appealing way to get started because the generous free tiers have meant they could develop and build their tools essentially for free – as long as they didn’t need any support. Now the free tier for Google Maps is becoming rather less generous: a $200 monthly credit for the core Maps, Routes and Places services that consolidate the existing 18 APIs, along with free map display in iOS and Android apps (but you’ll have to pay for displaying Street View on mobile). Basic map embedding is still free but if you embed a map with options for directions, search or Street View, that’s now charged for.
That will still let low-volume sites run enough mapping queries for their needs (Google says it will cover the usage of 98% of its free users), but the API pricing is also going up significantly in many cases, with the Standard and Premium plans merging into a single pricing plan. Support is now available 24 hours a day, but only on week days.
With the changes, some developers predict their costs will rise to 10 or 20 times what they have been paying; others who’ve relied on the free tier expect to have to start paying for the first time. After complaints about short notice, the changes (and the credit) have now been postponed to 16 July 2018, although the new API options will be available from 11 June 2018. Existing Premium Plan users will see the changes in September 2018, and some of the pricing will be a little different.
The price rises mean the credits cover significantly fewer queries than the previous free tier; the new pricing is also rather complex and depends on which specific features you use.
There’s a cost for each map or Street View load which varies by whether it’s static or dynamic (and Maps and Street View are now billed separately). Instead of 25,000 free page loads a day that have been allowed since 2015, the $200 credit would only cover 100,000 static map loads a month (or 28,000 dynamic page loads for maps users can pan and zoom). If you go over the free limit, instead of the previous $0.50 per extra thousand page loads, that will now cost $2 per thousand loads, or $7 for dynamic maps (with discounts for more than 100,000 calls per month).
The Places API currently allows 150,000 free requests a day (after identity verification), with 2,500 free requests a day for APIs like Roads, Directions, Geocoding and Elevation. With the new pricing, that gets more granular but also more complicated.
Directions cost more if you use more waypoints or offer multi-modal routes, or if you use waypoint optimisation to shorten the journey, or traffic models to avoid delays on the route. Distance Matrix calls that use real-time traffic models (the traffic models are charged at a higher rate as are Roads API calls that use snap to road or nearest road), and Autocomplete now has two pricing options, per keystroke or per session. The $200 credit would cover 40,000 calls to the basic Routes APIs or 20,000 calls to the advanced ones, with extra calls at $5 or $10 per thousand (again with high volume discounts).
Place Details are now charged for in four bands – basic, then contact (which includes open hours), atmosphere (which includes the price level) or both, plus an extra charge for photos – so the more information you retrieve about a location, the more it costs, and if you don’t specify what fields you want you’ll get (and pay for) them all. Depending on the level of information, the $200 credit will cover from 5,000 to 11,000 API calls.
Because of this complexity, developers will want to study the detailed price list and compare them to their current billing report or log in and use the pricing calculator to see what their new bill will look like. Enterprise pricing and volume discounts are available, though there are no public details on the costs, but Google hasn’t directly replaced the enterprise mapping tools it’s deprecated in the last couple of years like the Google Earth Pro API and the Google Maps Engine; instead, it’s concentrating on the Maps Platform APIs.
Keeping track of what you spend
As daily usage caps are going away, you’ll probably want to set daily quotas to control how much you’re spending, create a monthly budget to keep you under the monthly credit, or at least billing alerts to keep tabs on usage. This is all now done from the Google Cloud Platform console, even if you don’t use any GCP services.
Bing Maps – an alternative
The new Google Maps pricing has motivated a lot of developers to look into alternative mapping services. The Bing Maps APIs offer all the same features as the Google APIs except for cycling directions and turn-by turn live navigation and include several APIs Google doesn’t have – custom POI hosting and search, batch geocoding, isochrones (how far you can travel in a given time) and truck routing (which covers everything from crosswinds, steep hills, weight limits and low bridges to tunnels where you can’t have flammable cargoes).
Pricing is also simpler with Bing Maps; if you have a public website or an Android or iOS mobile app (or a Windows app you use only within your organisation), or you’re using the service only for development and testing, you can make 125,000 billable calls against the Bing Maps APIs in a year. If you use the Bing Maps in a Windows app that’s publicly available, or you work in education or a not-for-profit organisation you can make 50,000 calls a day. You can also use session IDs with the Bing Maps HTML5 web control to get up to 25 calls in one session (counting from when the user loads the map to when they close the tab or load another page) that aren’t billed. Beyond those levels you need an enterprise licence, but the charges are by the number of API calls you make, rather than varying by which APIs you call.
Bing Maps and Azure
Or if you prefer a monthly pricing service, the Bing Maps are available through Azure with up to 10,000 free API calls a month for public or internal websites; API calls above the free limit cost from half a cent to one and a half cents each depending on monthly transaction volume (up to 500,000 transactions a month) depending on whether it’s a public or internal website.
Watch the September 2019 Bing Maps developer webinar here
Read our related blog post: How Bing Maps API features compare to Google Maps