In the world of online mapping, it feels like things aren’t quite going in Google’s direction these days: Apple switched away from Google Maps to OpenStreetMap when it launched iPhoto for iOS. Foursquare, too, announced a similar switch just a few weeks ago and today, Wikipedia switched to OpenStreetMap in the latest versions of its iOS and Android apps.
As our own Josh Constine wrote last month, Google’s plan to charge high-volume users for access to its Maps APIs could backfire and this most recent defection is yet another clear signal that we will probably see quite a few more of these moves in the near future.
While OpenStreetMap’s data wasn’t quite ready for prime time not too long ago, the service has greatly improved the quality of its maps recently. The service also now has the backing of a number of large companies interested in the online mapping space, including Apple and Microsoft.
Wikipedia would probably qualify for a non-profit grant from Google and be able to use the service for free (or for a relatively small fee). For Wikipedia, however, this switch is actually more about using an “open and free source of Map Data” than about money. Wikipedia’s Yuvi Panda also argues that not using Google’s proprietary APIs in the code “helps it run on the millions of cheap Android handsets that are purely open source and do not have the proprietary Google applications.”
For the time being, the Wikipedia apps are using MapQuest’s tile servers to render the OpenStreetMap data, but Wikipedia’s parent organization Wikimedia plans to switch to its own tile servers soon.
Besides this switch to OpenStreetMap, the new versions of the Wikipedia apps also introduce a number of new features for both platforms. iOS users, for example, can now get search suggestions, save pages to Read It Later and perform full-text searches (these features were already available in the Android app). Android users only get a smaller update this time, which includes quick search bar integration and an improved tablet interface.