When looking toward integrating 3D maps or elements into your application, Cesium and Mapbox are good options.
The purpose of this article is to explain and give a crucial comparison between these two popular mapping services based on the following key elements:
- Customization options
- API’s and SDK’s
- Look and feel
We’ll also look more generally at the pros and cons of each mapping service.
What is Cesium?
Cesium provides a fast, simple, end-to-end platform for tiling, visualizing, sharing, and analyzing 3D geospatial data.
Cesium helps to transform massive and diverse 3D geospatial data into streamable 3D content that’s ready to be used in your application and in any other environment.
Globe view support
Cesium provides support for representations of the Earth in a 3D globe view model. It gives you the ability to freely move around in the virtual environment by changing the viewing angle and position. One additional capability of globe view is that it allows you to represent many different views of the surface of the Earth.
Unlike Mapbox, Cesium is fully 3D out of the box. This allows for the rotation and visualization of objects from multiple perspectives. This makes the experience of implementing and compositing 3D objects in mapping services even more seamless.
3D data tiling and streaming
Cesium provides 3D tiling, which transforms massive and diverse 3D geospatial data into streamable 3D content ready to be used in your application. You could also arrange and bring together data from multiple sources to visualize it as one.
Generous free trial option and flexible pricing plans
At the time of writing this article, Cesium provides a community (or free tier) plan of up to 15 GB/month for data streaming, unlimited apps, end users, and 5 GB storage space to host and share your 3D contents. This option is suitable for non-commercial projects.
Relatively larger SDK size
Compared to Mapbox, Cesium has a relatively larger SDK size, with the latest unpacked version of Cesium.js, (released Oct 01 2020), weighing up to 79.4 MB.
Incomplete building information
Unlike Mapbox, Cesium does not provide building information (more on this under the look and feel section).
Slower response time
Cesium has a slow response time, with an update upon interacting with the globe view loading at around +3sec on a stable 7.2Mbps Internet connection.
How about Mapbox?
Mapbox, on the other hand, helps developers build better mapping, navigation, and search experiences across different platforms.
Unlike Cesium, Mapbox provides vast mapping services outside of 3D mapping, some of which include:
- Augmented reality navigation
- Automotive (driving experience)
Choose between different map styles
Mapbox provides several map styles that can either be used directly in your application or as a starting point for creating a new custom style in Mapbox Studio.
Generous free trial
Mapbox also offers a generous free tier, with up to 50,000/month free map loads for web and up to 25,000 monthly active users for their mobile SDKs.
Faster load/ update time
On a sample 3D building display test, Mapbox seems to update the map faster than Cesium. It loads at a little less than 2 seconds while under a stable 7.2Mbps internet connection.
Mapbox provides building information
Unlike Cesium, Mapbox provides support for 3D buildings information (more on this under the look and feel section).
Mapbox Uses 2.5D Instead Of 3D
While Cesium uses 3D out of the box, Mapbox uses 2.5D (2D shapes with height). This makes gathering and combining multiple 3D objects using other third party libraries like Three.js a bit complicated.
Cesium has a robust and secure cloud platform, Cesium ion, where 3D data can be easily hosted, edited, and streamed across multiple devices.
On the platform, you also have access to curated 3D content including Cesium World Terrain, Bing Maps imagery, and Cesium OSM Buildings.
Another amazing feature of Cesium ion is that it lets you create and share map-based stories without writing code.
While you could choose from Mapbox ready-to-use style templates, like Cesium ion, Mapbox also offers a similar platform: Mapbox Studio. However, it has more capabilities. For example, it lets you add point of interest labels to map, lets you change the map color, and adjust the road width, among other awesome capabilities. And you can easily integrate your design across all of their SDKs.
Mapbox, on the other hand, provides Mapbox GL. Mapbox GL a suite of open-source libraries for embedding customizable and responsive client-side maps in web, mobile, and desktop applications.
Along with Mapbox GL, they also offer commercial SDKs for every of their other services.
Look, feel, and map interaction
The above image is an example of a 3D building in Mapbox, clearly providing the surrounding buildings information which will make it even easier to navigate the map.
Below is an example of a similar 3D building in Cesium. Unlike Mapbox, there is no building information, which would make it more complicated to navigate the map.
In this post, we covered the differences between Cesium and Mapbox. We addressed the pros and cons tied to each of them, compared the look of both maps, and established which is more popular. While both platforms offer great mapping services, obviously Mapbox offers a lot more features than Cesium.
If you are looking to host and share 3D contents across multiple platforms, Cesium is probably the option you’ll want to go with. On the other hand if your goal is to display 3D data and leverage more mapping features, then Mapbox is the best choice.
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