Thunderforest Lightning Maps are a new way to create and style maps. Based on vector tile technology, this system has been rolled out across the whole Thunderforest platform.
Vector tiles contain all the map information required for the corresponding image tile. They are compressed protobuf files and are created from the shapefiles and PostGIS database normally used for rendering. By pre-processing the data into vector tiles they become easy to ship around, and very fast to convert into raster image tiles - so fast that the raster images don’t even need to be stored!
Full details on all these features are coming soon! In the meantime, you can watch a presentation Andy gave about them at an OpenStreetMap conference.
Yes! Lightning vector tiles are great format for onboard rendering, and there are already libraries out there which support them. One example is Maply/Whirlyglobe - read what Steve Gifford has to say about using the first release of these tiles for onboard rendering.
Direct access to the vector tiles is currently available to developers under our Beta program - please see our documentation on our Vector Maps API.