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 Mobile GIS & LBS

Archive for September, 2011

GeoSpatial Mobile Developers

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

As a company, we sometimes wonder who are our competition. Fundamentally we build mobile location based solutions, both mobile GIS and location based services. Turning to Google I tried some searches. A number of variation on a theme so; mobile gis application developers, geo-spatial mobile developers, mobile location based application developers, mobile location services, location cross platform mobile development. To my amazement the searches came back with very few companies. Very strange. It seems an obvious fit; mobile applications which take advantage of, and utilize mobile data.

Is geo-spatial or location based mobile application development just a niche? Maybe most application development companies are focused on general mobile app development? Perhaps its because mobile is so new, that both clients and software development companies are still trying to fit mobile into their overall plan.

Mobile Location Services

The mobile location sector is very fragmented at the moment. On one side we have ESRI, the worlds biggest GIS company. They were slow in entering the Web, they are moving quicker with mobile, but their world remains GIS focused. And that is a niche no doubt. They have yet to broaden their appeal beyond their core, mostly public, GIS community.

Mobile Application Development IPad

Figure 1: ESRI ArcGIS running on the IPad

The location based sector is more dynamic. Its somewhat a bubble at the minute, with tonnes of VC money pouring into some frankly daft ideas. But there are some gems within that world. Like the dot com boom and bust, many will fall but some real innovation will come from this sector. There are huge opportunities to build location based applications, classed as location based services (LBS), to use in marketing, advertising and beyond on mobile devices. At present this sector is narrowly focused on consumers. Broadening solutions to the enterprise offers mouth watering possibilities. Figure 2 below shows a mobile check-in and data collection application which allows field service techs, surveyors, water utility workers, indeed any workers in the field to utilize mobile in their daily work routines.

MapQuest have an interesting offering. They were one of the the earliest companies to put maps on the Web. Initially focused on routing/directions, and traffic, they have broadened their offering to to include local search, marker and map overlays. In October they announce their Flash mobile API release. This is a big deal. More about Flash in a minute. But the MapQuest offering is in many ways made for mobile. Imagine being able to access routing and up to date traffic information while on the road. Look ahead and see accidents on your route and avoid them. Conduct local searches; find venues near you. Overlay KML and GeoRSS markers on the map to see points of interest (POI). Tonnes of possibilities.

Mobile Application Development MapQuest Flash API

Figure 2: MapQuest Enterprise Check-In and Data Collection App

Location Based Cross Platform Mobile Development

Objective C has become one of the most in demand programming languages. This relates to the popularity of Apple mobile devices. Most of the apps in the Apple App Store are written in Objective C. Successful mobile application development shops are filled with Objective C developers. But the game is changing. Android, and other mobile platforms are becoming increasingly more popular. Where does that leave your beautiful Objective C application? Only running on Apple products that’s where! You’ll need to rewrite it for Android, BlackBerry, Windows!

Now, thankfully there are cross platform solutions. Two of the most notable are Adobe AIR and PhoneGap. With AIR you can take your existing Flex or Flash apps and convert it to a mobile applications. Or build your AIR mobile app from scratch. But, most importantly, run the app on all mobile platforms. With PhoneGap take your Javascript application and do the same. That is one code base, which runs across mobile platforms. Simple.

Geo-Spatial Cross Platform Mobile Development

We have digressed slightly from our original topic. The future of mobile is very interesting, and filled with opportunities. Location will be at the core of many, if not most mobile applications. One day it might be pointless for companies such as us to target location based cross platform application development. But at the minute it seems to make tonnes of sense. Mobiles devices are computers with ever changing locations. Taking advantage of location to provide dynamic data – traffic ahead, what or who is near me, analysis by current location – has endless possibilities. Cross platform too. Who has the money or time to build multiple versions of the same application to run across each mobile platform? Build it once and deploy it to all would seem to be the future.

We might be wrong. But we are going to stay focused on cross platform location based mobile application solutions.

Mobiles & Field Data Collection

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Recently we’ve had considerable interest in mobile application development based around check-in and mobile data collection. Facility management companies, surveyors, multi-level marketing, insurance claims, pipeline companies, water utilities; all have field workers who would benefit from mobile applications. Not only checking in to work sites, but keeping a record of the work done; notes, pictures, video, even voice records. To help with our discussions with these potential clients, we put together a demo which pulls together much of this proposed functionality. We have included in this article both screen shots of the key functionality in the demo, plus a video of the actual application.

A key challenge of building the demo was finding a suitable mobile application tool set. Initially we discussed using a combination of SimpleGeo with a mapping API. But MapQuest came to the rescue with their new Flash mobile tool set. Not only do they provide routing and traffic data, but local search, and a range of other functionality all easily integrated with the map.

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Opening Screen

The opening screen in the application shows the base functionality. Each view or tool is listed as a selectable image. At any point a user can open the map to see their current location. This changes as the user moves. As we will discuss, the map is also utilised by other tools in the application.

SmartPhone MapQuest Data Collection Application

Figure 1 – SmartPhone MapQuest Data Collection Application

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Directions Screen

Let’s imagine a potential scenario. A field worker starts each day by opening a mobile application such as the one we are describing here. They want to start by seeing the days calls and an optimised route to these calls, mapped out for them. In Figure 2 we show a single source and destination mapped. MapQuest also allow for multiple source-destinations to be entered and displayed. At any point in the day the user can open this tool and see on the map the location of their next call.

SmartPhone MapQuest Directions View

Figure 2 – SmartPhone MapQuest Directions View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Check-In Screen

Next, the worker arrives at the first call and wishes to check-in. Figure 3 shows the check-in screen. There are two options shown. First a check-in by venue; so a field technician about to fix the air conditioning in a specific 7-11, for example. In the demo the user would type in the address, this could just as easily be a selection from a list of venues nearby. The second option is a check-in by current location or lat/long. Maybe a surveyor wishing to record, or check-in at a particular point. The check-in process would send name, id, location and time to the company server. A check-out would similarly record similar data centrally.

SmartPhone MapQuest Check-In View

Figure 3 – SmartPhone MapQuest Check-In View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Local Search Screen

At any point in the day a field worker might wish to do a local search. A search for venues, points of interest, maybe people within a certain distance of a location. The MapQuest api offers many possibilities for these types of searches. In Figure 4 and Figure 8, we show a simple venue search within a certain radius of either current location or from a specific address.

SmartPhone MapQuest Search View

Figure 4 – SmartPhone MapQuest Search View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – GeoCoder Screen

A geocoder is a useful tool. In Figure 5 we show how users can type in an address, and use MapQuest to add a marker to the map of that location.

SmartPhone MapQuest GeoCoder View

Figure 5 – SmartPhone MapQuest GeoCoder View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Data Screen

Data collection is often an important part of a field workers job. Surveyors, service technicians, pipeline inspectors are all recording data while in the field. Mobile applications are perfect both for recording and storing location based data – notes, pictures, voice records, video. They are also ideal for reviewing historic data. Let’s imagine a pipeline inspectors who on August 1, 2011 inspected a section of pipeline. He records what he sees using this mobile application. A field engineer, using the same application, views this data and makes appropriate repairs. A second inspection done on September 1, 2011 again using the mobile application, to view images and notes made a month before and by the field engineer, shows the work was completed successfully. This is a very real work flow.

Figure 6 shows the applications data screen. The search option makes a request to the company server for past data records. The search could be done by date, location or any number of other criteria.

SmartPhone MapQuest Data View

Figure 6 – SmartPhone MapQuest Data View 1

Figure 7 shows the summary data input view. So this is a summary of the data recorded by the field worker prior to storage. The camera on a mobile device can be used to attach photos or video to the work order. Mobile devices also have voice recorders. Notes can also be included in the data stored. The data itself can be attached to a check-out, or stored locally on the mobile device, maybe for later upload to a central company server.

SmartPhone MapQuest Data View

Figure 7 – SmartPhone MapQuest Data View 2

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application Video

See the application being demo’d in this video.


MapQuest have an excellent new set of mobile tools. The application discussed in this article is based on input from potential client. Those who have seen the application have been excited by the possibilities. When clients can see live demos of mobile solutions it often elicits new thinking and ideas. As mobile application developers the ideas which come from these discussions and demos are why we love what we do.

WebMapSolutions are a Utah mobile application development company. Specializing in locations based services (LBS), GIS and mapping applications. For more information contact

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