The benefits of vector tiles for Big Data

There is an ever-increasing need for companies to create a wide variety of web and mobile-based mapping applications – from simple store locators to complex visualisation applications.

Today, we are going to discuss how vector tiles can help address the challenge of mapping Big Data over the web and on mobile devices.

Weapons of mass consumption

In today’s society we have a massive appetite for information, and we want to be able to consume it on-the-go via our laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Mapping is no different. Maps are becoming more detailed, and the need to visualise complex data sets on these maps is becoming critical to businesses who want to gain location-based insights.

Houston, we have a problem

But map data consumption poses no problem now, right? The internet is a lot faster these days and my smartphone is basically a super computer in my pocket.

Not so fast…

The current solutions both have limitations that have not been addressed. Let’s look at these:

Vector data: The size of the data required to process complex maps is just too large to be consumed over the internet in a timely manner. The data complexity has moved beyond the capability of the solution.

Raster tiles: These were originally introduced to address the size and rendering issues with vector data. Maps are created by joining dozens of individually requested image files (tiles) together to form a map.

It is currently the most popular way to display and navigate maps and has been the go-to solution for many years; however, as these are static images they don’t provide features that today’s consumers demand.

This is about to change with the advent of vector tiles.

The new horizon

Vector tiles are like the offspring of the perfect marriage of vector data and raster tiles – providing an ideal solution for delivering styled maps over the web.

Vector tiles are packets of geographic data, sent as bite-sized chunks. Unlike raster tiled web maps, the server returns vector data rather than an image file.

There are several benefits of this hybrid approach:

  • Data transfer is significantly reduced
  • Styling – such as colours and fonts – can be applied at the browser
  • Cool effects like rotation and movement are also availableAs we discussed, the current solutions for visualising complex data sets on web and mobile apps are far from ideal as they don’t address the features and consumption needs of today’s users.

So are vector tiles the solution to creating complex visualisations for the web and mobile? Yep. Big Data – no longer a big problem!