Mobile GIS & LBS

Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan
Founder and Senior Principal at WebMapSolutions. Matt Sheehan holds an MSc in Geography and GIS. He has been working with clients developing GIS solutions since 1996. Matt founded WebMapSolutions whose mission is to provide state of the art GIS solutions using the most current technology. Today … More »

GeoSpatial Mobile Developers

 
September 22nd, 2011 by Matt Sheehan


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.

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