Paving the Way for MapLibre Native’s Metal Ascent

Written by Steve Gifford

October 27, 2022

At Wet Dog Weather, we are committed to working with Stamen Design to update MapLibre Native’s Metal support on iOS as long as the corporate money flows.

That isn’t very clear, so like a beetle in a log, let’s Break It Down.

Buckle up because we’re going on a trip.

The MapLibre Native Imperative

What happens when a company abandons an open-source offering? Sometimes, it lives; sometimes, it withers away.

Mapbox abandoned its MapboxGL project (boo). MapLibre formed in the vacuum (yay). But MapLibre inherited a lot of technical debt, which was complicated.

MapLibre is a map display toolkit with major versions for mobile and web. There are others, too, but let’s keep this focused.

The web version seems to be doing pretty well. Big companies are switching over, and updates are being made. Good stuff!

The mobile (native) version is more complex, somewhat due to the nature of the tech, but mainly because of Apple.

Apple, OpenGL, and Metal

OpenGL ES is fundamental to MapLibre Native, but Apple deprecated it years ago, replacing it with Metal. They’re not totally capricious, and Metal is much better on modern GPUs.

Every time you compile an OpenGL-based app, you get a lot of horrible warnings, and you wonder when Apple might pull the plug. This is holding up adoption in the name-brand companies that would use MapLibre.

Android has this, too, but it’s not as urgent. Vulkan is a replacement for OpenGL, but it’s not required. Android is more chill in general.

That’s the problem. Why are we involved?

Leveraging Wet Dog Weather's Expertise

Before Wet Dog Weather, two of us were at Mousebird Consulting. We made a toolkit called WhirlyGlobe-Maply, a competitor to MapboxGL. Yeah, we lost that battle, but we did survive.

In 2018, we made the jump from OpenGL to Metal. It was complex and costly (for us), but it worked! And not just barely, we saw a huge performance increase.

We’re definitely qualified, but so would a former developer from Mapbox. There seem to be a lot of those, so could they do it? Sure, but they shouldn’t

MapLibre must be very careful about not stealing Mapbox’s Intellectual Property. A former developer on the appropriate Mapbox team could unintentionally do that, and everyone involved knows it’s a bad idea.

On the other hand, we haven’t been on good terms with Mapbox for about a decade and have no real clue how their technology works. We’re squeaky clean.

But WhirlyGlobe-Maply is a competitor to MapboxGL and MapLibre, so why would we do this?

Starting Our Cashflow

We started Wet Dog Weather early in 2022, finished our pre-seed round, and were off! Then, the investment market collapsed, and some of our prospects were laid off.

We cut our burn rate, extended our runway, and all the usual buzzwords. But nothing fixes a problem like cash.

We’re in this for the money. That said, open source is precious and deserves a clear commitment. 

A Steadfast Commitment to the MapLibre Community

Here is our pledge to you, the MapLibre community. We will see you through to a working, performant Metal port as long as the money flows.

We’ll also help round up that money from the corporate types. That’s how things work.

WhirlyGlobe-Maply has several features MapLibre doesn’t: full map projection support, time series data loading, and bits and pieces. If someone pays, perhaps Vulkan, we’ll move those over. We’ll see.

But we will definitely see you through the Metal port as long as the money flows.

Note To Investors

To our Wet Dog Weather Investors, yes, this is a distraction. It will pay for itself, and it has some strategic merit.

There are some long-term benefits, but we are doing this for the cash. Survival is the thing.