Embedded Apple Map on WWDC site suggests official public MapKit web API coming soon


Apple seems to be preparing to announce a web version of its MapKit framework, allowing anyone to embed an Apple Map view into a web page. On the WWDC microsite, Apple has embedded its own map object in the page to show attendees how to get between Moscone West and the Bill Civic auditorium, where the Monday keynote will be held. Looking at the code, it appears Apple wants to make this embeddable map a public API in the (near?) future so anyone could add an Apple Map to their website.

The map allows user interaction like you might expect with panning, zooming and such. Behind the scenes, the Apple map uses a HTML5 <canvas> element to render the custom cartography. Right now, MapKit is exclusive to iOS and Mac apps, ostensibly funded by the revenue Apple brings in from the sale of App Store apps.

From a business perspective, it is unclear why Apple would want to open up its API to web developers. Today, most developers use embedded Google Maps to display maps on their websites due to its ubiquity. Although other mapping options exist, a high-profile entrance of Apple into the space would provide strong competition to Google’s offering.

This is not the first time Apple has used Apple Maps in a website context. It has used its own mapping across several online sites, including the Find My iPhone app on iCloud.com. However, the framework code for those implementations never seemed to be meant for wider usage outside of Apple.

The MapKit JS API used for the WWDC website is not like this. It features a logical structure, good named symbols and access is gated by a developer API key. It appears to be a well-formed framework meant to be used by many people, with various delegate hooks for customisation. In the case of the WWDC website, the map has been adorned with several custom pins highlighting importation event locations.

The version number of the MapKit framework is also significantly different to what has been used before. Whereas Find my iPhone uses a MapKit script with a ‘v1’ numbering, the WWDC Apple Map is named as a ‘v3’ iteration. The copyright claims also indicate that the framework is under active development, spanning 2015-2016. These signals suggest Apple will announce a new web MapKit API at WWDC 2016. There is also the chance that Apple is merely updating the framework to improve its internal codebase and has no plans to release it as a public developer feature.

Apple may introduce this embedding feature as part of a larger project. We have heard some rumblings that Apple is planning to unveil a fully-fledged Maps web-app for public use, just like the Apple Maps iPad or Mac app … in the same way people can visit maps.google.com and use Google services to map out trips. It would make sense to announce an embed option as part of that wider reveal, although we could not find a reference to such a service in the code. Right now, themaps.apple.com URL simply redirects to information about the iOS Maps app.