Mapping Solution for OS X

By | November 2, 2010

Disclaimer – This posting is my personal view based on the information I have found to date – it does not represent the official views of Google Inc., and is not legal advice. You should seek guidance from Google Inc. for your individual application needs and circumstances.

I’ve been working on my first OS X app recently, and it’s going pretty well. It’s a simple app for genealogists that allows them to perform geospatial searches against places (parishes, towns, cities, etc.). The app is written for OS X, and there is an iPhone / iPad version planned.

When the user performs a search the results are initially displayed in a table, but the user has the option to overlay the results on a Google map. It’s a simple feature, but very useful for genealogists to be able to see search results in context.

The obvious choice for implementation of this feature was Google Maps. It’s a great mapping engine, and the API has a lot of power. I wanted to make sure that my app conformed to Google’s commercial terms and conditions so I had a look through the Google Maps documentation.

Google provides two licencing models for their map engine:

  • The free Google Maps API licence
  • Google Maps Premier API (commercial) licence

However, the Google Maps API web site did not, in my view, make clear exactly what constitutes an app that conforms to the free licence model, and one that requires the use of the commercial licence.

There are two relevant sets of API terms and conditions, one for iPhone and one for web/desktop apps:

Google don’t appear to differentiate between web apps and desktop apps (from the FAQ):

Can I use Google Maps in my non-Web application?

Yes, the Google Maps APIs can now be used in Desktop applications, provided that they adhere to the other restrictions of the Terms of Service. Note that in order for a desktop application to be deemed “publicly accessible”, there must be a publicly accessible webpage from which it can be downloaded. See Section 7.1c of the Terms of Service for more information.

However, there is a clear distinction between the Ts & Cs for iPhone apps and web/desktop apps. One of the differentiating clauses is clause 9.1:

iPhone Ts & Cs:

9. License Requirements. Google’s licenses above are subject to your adherence to the following requirements:

9.1 Accessibility to Your Maps API Implementation. Your Maps API Implementation may not charge an incremental fee solely for the Service.

…and

Web/Desktop Ts & Cs:

9. License Requirements. Google’s licenses above are subject to your adherence to the following requirements:

9.1 Free, Public Accessibility to Your Maps API Implementation. Your Maps API Implementation must be generally accessible to users without charge. You may require users to log in to your Maps API Implementation if you do not require users to pay a fee. Unless you have entered into a separate written agreement with Google or obtained Google’s written permission, your Maps API Implementation must not:

  • (a) require a fee-based subscription or other fee-based restricted access; or
  • (b) operate only behind a firewall or only on an internal network (except during the development and testing phase).

It wasn’t clear if the restriction was related to the just the implementation of Google Maps in an application (i.e. just that bit of an application’s functionality), or rather the application as a whole.

I contacted the Google Maps Premier API Sales team for an explanation and to ask them which licence my desktop app requires, and after much debate, was told this:

“…unfortunately I have to reiterate, if there is any payment for any aspect of a service which involves maps, then this requires a licence…”

So, it seems that for web/desktop apps any payment of any kind for your software means that you need a Google Maps Premier licence, while an iPhone app only requires a Google Maps Premier licence if you charge specifically for the mapping functionality.

Hope that helps.