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 Mobile GIS & LBS

Archive for October, 2011

Mobile GIS App Planning Guide

Sunday, October 30th, 2011


This article is targeted at individuals or companies looking to build a new mobile or Web application. It is a guide to help you move from a great idea to a great application. Oh, and it is short.

Let’s begin by imagining a house. Your dream house. The home you’ve always wanted to build. At the moment the layout, design, color etc. are in your head. New ideas are continually being added to this mental picture you are forming. You’d like to make this dream reality. But how? You look for professional help; maybe a builder, an architect.

Imagine you call this professional. You start the conversation as follows:

“Hello. My name is Joe. I want to build my dream house. It will need to have 4 bedrooms and a kitchen. How much will that cost to build?”

How do you imagine the builder, or architect will respond?

This is a silly example, which has little relation to software development, I hear you saying. Right? Wrong!

Software development is just like house building. You would be surprised how often we field calls similar to the above.

“We would like an application which does X. How much will that cost to build?”

If you are serious about making a dream reality. You need to start with something tangible. Mental pictures are only useful to you. Once you start involving others you need to transfer your thoughts.

Don’t get us wrong; cost at some point will be an important consideration. Cost will determine what is and isn’t possible. Cost may force changes to some of your ideas. Cost will determine who you choose to do the work. But starting with cost without providing a well thought out, and clearly laid out picture of your thoughts. Will leave your dream just that, a dream!

Mobile Application Development Brainstorming

Let’s start with brainstorming. This is the process of transferring ideas to paper; often many crumpled pieces of paper. Sure there are tools out there to create mind maps. We are old fashioned. Put everybody in a room, grab some paper or a white board and start scribbling. It’s amazing what you can come up with. Figure 1 below are the initial roughs for a mobile app we recently worked on. It shows roughs for an IPad and IPhone version of the same app.

Mobile Application Development Roughs

Figure 1: Mobile Application Roughs

These scribbles can be as detailed as you would like. But they are a huge step forward. You’ve transferred thoughts to something tangible. A format others can understand.

Mobile Application Flow

Ok, so we have our initial picture(s) of what the application will be. Let’s formalize things a little. Provide an idea of application flow. Figure 1 includes some simple flow; if I click button X it takes the user to screen 2 which shows content A. Get it?

Mobile Application Development Professionals

So now is it time to turn to a professional? Definitely maybe. If you are comfortable that you have all the application pieces in place, in a format which is understandable to a stranger. Definitely. Remember, pictures work better than words. Always. The words simply support the pictures.

Planning and design are two crucial parts of the application development process. But these are only relevant once you have decided on who will help architect and build the application.

You will find that the professionals you choose to show your application roughs will have questions. Good roughs will help others understand what you are trying to do.

Mobile Application Development Estimates

With a good understanding of what you are trying to build. A software development company can start thinking about some of the technical challenges. This then leads to time estimates for developing the application. Ultimately to the magic number. Estimated cost.

Here is a dirty secret. Developers often take their initial time estimate based on the roughs we have described above. Double it. Then add 10%. What ….because they are greedy?

Estimation is a very inexact science. A developer will always try to overestimate rather than underestimate. Think about it. What would you prefer, a developer saying:

“Great news. We finished the work for less than you expected to pay.”


“The work will take longer than expected. That will cost you more money.”

Mobile Application Development – Making Changes

So you find the perfect company to do the work, at the right price. You start moving forward. Then change what you want. Maybe you forgot something, or, have new ideas. Does that change the cost? Quite possibly. By how much? Ask the question. It is surprising how often people make changes to applications, without considering cost implications.

Mobile Application Development & Successful Outcomes

The best applications in the mobile and Web markets are those which start with a great idea. An idea which is transferred to an understandable format and shared. Discussed. Changed. A great development company found to do the work. At the right price. Planning, design, feedback, changes occur iteratively. Your dream becomes reality.

The End (or just the beginning)

WebMapSolutions are mobile application developers. The company specialises in building locations based services (LBS), GIS and mapping applications. If you are looking to build a mobile solution, or just need a better understanding of the mobile sector, contact:

Offline Mobile GIS

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

You might be wondering how you access GIS layers when your mobile has no Wi-FI access. Well wait no more, the solution is at hand. The demo below shows ArcGIS being used offline. Before you open source folk get upset, this solution could also be applied to a Geoserver/Openlayers/OpenScales solution. The app shows storage of base map tiles and a shapefile on the actual mobile device. In offline mode, we show loading this data. Very cool. Thanks a million to Mansour at ESRI for helping us move this forward. See the application demo in the link below:

Offline Mobile ArcGIS Demo Video

This functionality may at some point be added to our GeoMobile for ArcGIS mobile app. You can get the current free version of the app here.

Q&A – Mobile App Development Planning

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Q. We want to build a mobile application. Where should we begin?

Before jumping in, first get a better understanding of mobile. That does not mean trying to understand the intricacies of the technology. But a good general picture of this still confusing mobile world will be a big help in the long term?

Q: I’ve tried surfing the Web to learn more about mobile, but remain confused. Is there a good source I can go to which explains in simple terms mobile and mobile application development?

Many Web mobile articles are too technical. Bu it is worth spending time looking for good introductory articles. Talking to mobile application development companies can also be a good idea. Sales and marketing people may be helpful. Better would be to talk to an actual developer or individual with a technical background. That can be somewhat daunting. But often technical folk can help demystify things. But be warned, steer them clear of technical jargon. Some companies offer free initial consultations. We’ve trained our technical staff to make consultations jargon free. We can certainly answer your questions. But don’t stop with us, talk to others. Build your knowledge base, so you have a clear understanding of all your options.

Q: Ok, I’ve spoken to a number of companies, and have a good idea of the mobile landscape. I understand I have the option of a mobile Web application or an installed mobile application. Tell us more?

A mobile Web application is like any Web application you can access from your PC. It is just optimized for mobile. When I say optimized I mean it has a simpler design (mobile screens are smaller) and built for finger interaction (as against mouse). Most people are looking for cross platform mobile Web apps, or an application which runs on all mobile browsers. That means in terms of development choices Flash, Flex, Silverlight are out. HTML5/Javascript is best choice.

Installed applications are those downloaded from the Apple App Store and Android Market. To have an application built you have two options; a native app or hybird. So for Apple a native app would be written in Objective C. Will that same app run on an Android device. Yes but only if you write it in a different language. Step up hybrid apps. These you write once and deploy to all devices. Application written in Adobe mobile AIR are hybrid. Are there advantages one over the other? Some, but maybe not enough to incur the cost of multiple native apps.

Q. Which is better an installed or mobile Web application?

That depends (you knew I would say that). Web apps are easier to distribute, just provide a URL and bingo. Write the mobile web app in HTML5/javascript and you have a cross platform solution. But try to store an image taken with a camera, and you are out of luck. Hybrid apps are available through an app store. You can charge for every download. Reaching deeper into the guts of the device, to store data in a local database is easy. Just a few examples of strenths and weaknesses. Everything depends on the apps functionality and the business model you might have in place.

Q. Can you convert a mobile (Javascript) Web application to an installed app?

Yes you can use PhoneGap. Now owned by Adobe who have promised to keep it open source.

Q: Your company specialize in building location focused mobile applications, does that mean you build mapping applications?

Certainly maps are a part of what we do. But our real focus is location. Answering questions like what or who is near me.

On the mapping side we’ve partnered with MapQuest to provide cross platform routing, traffic and local search mobile capabilities. We also work closely with ESRI to provide mobile GIS solutions using their ArcGIS product. In fact we have just launched GeoMobile for ArcGIS, a free mobile ArcGIS viewer.

But we define ourselves by location. Mobile devices have on-board GPS, so at any time the device can report where it is. That means an application running on the devices can reach out to Foursquare, Yelp or any other social networking company which shares their data. Passing current location to these provider will allow a mobile application to list data they can provide; people nearby, Mexican restaurants within 5 miles etc. We have been very involved with building apps focused on data collection by location. Field workers on site often need to collect data and link that to the collection point, surveyors, field repair crews, field technicians to name a few. Storing this data in a central computer extremely valuable and very efficient.

Q: Mobiles are still relatively new, mobile application development is both complicated and expensive. We will hold off on developing mobile apps, do you think we are being sensible?

Don’t be scared of mobile. For development the smoke is clearing. New developments by Adobe and HTML5 have helped provide less complex, simpler solutions. Mobile may well be the future of networked computing. Be careful not to be left behind.

Q. How much will a mobile application cost me to build?

Ah, the question we all want answered. Mobile app development continues to come at a cost premium. This will change with time. Depending on where you are, expect to pay in excess of $100 hr. Remember the old adage “if you pay peanuts you will get monkeys”. Hiring top development companies is what you should targeting. They don’t need to be big, but need strength and depth of experience and skills.

The development process usually looks like this:

  • Initial consultation – idea sharing
  • Planning – wireframe and architecture design
  • Design – application look and feel
  • Coding – let the nerds at it
  • Testing
  • Delivery

Q. How can we reach you?

You can reach us on 801-733-0723 or email

Free Mobile ArcGIS Apps

Monday, October 10th, 2011

There are increasingly more ArcGIS apps in the various app stores. ESRI have their ArcGIS Mobile viewer in the Apple store. This renders data published to ArcGISOnline. A number of nice tools have been included in the app to allow data interaction. It is available here:

ESRI ArcGIS Mobile Viewer in Apple Store

Our company have also just released a cross platform ArcGIS mobile map viewer to the Apple, Android and BlackBerry app stores. Based on the popular Web based ESRI Flex ArcGIS viewer, it was released as a free download.

We have just updated this initial version. A key addition to this new version is the ability of users to host their own configuration file, which controls the layers loaded by the viewer. Users can now add their own ArcGIS Dynamic, Tiled and Feature layers to the viewer.

Here is a full list of changes:

1. Application now reads a config file, hosted on any Web server, allowing users to add multiple layers.
2. Routing Widget added.
3. Query Widget added.
4. Minimize button added to all widgets.
5. Viewer can now load Feature Layers.
6. Fix for Geocoder Widget.
7. Fixes for Measure Widget.
8. Fixes for Layer Widget

The following video shows a demo of the new version running on the IPad:

GeoMobile for ArcGIS Demo

The app is a free download. At present it is the only cross platform custom ArcGIS viewer in any of the app stores. This new release is available in the Apple and Android stores from these links:

Free Mobile ArcGIS Viewer in Apple Store

Free Mobile ArcGIS Viewer in Android Market

The viewer should give users a feel for the possibilities presented by ArcGIS on mobile devices. The reason for releasing this as a free app is to encourage user feedback; general reactions, things that work well or badly, what else users would like to see.

Let me know your thoughts on these applications, and any other cool free mobile GIS apps.

GeoSpatial Mobile Development: Flex or HTML5?

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

I came across two interesting posts today. From James Fee on his excellent Spatially Adjusted blog:

“JavaScript not Flex/Silverlight — Yeah, it isn’t much of a surprise, open source users aren’t big Flex or Silverlight users, but JavaScript HTML5 web apps are everywhere and doing everything Flex/Silverlight can do, but work everywhere …. At this point it is safe to call every Flex/Silverlight location app as legacy as nobody in their right mind would be coding with those tools in 2012.”

and this on the Slideshare Blog:

“Ditching Flash for HTML5 feels like the right choice for us for a number of engineering reasons.

1. The exact same HTML5 documents work on the iPhone / iPad, Android phones/tablets, and modern desktop browsers. This is great from an operations perspective. This saves us from extra storage costs, and maximizes the cache hit ration on our CDN (since a desktop request fills the cache for a mobile request, and vice-versa). It’s also great from a software engineering perspective, because we can put all our energy into supporting one format and making it really great.

2. Documents load 30% faster and are 40% smaller. ‘Nuff said on that front, faster is ALWAYS better.

3. The documents are semantic and accessible. Google can parse it and index the documents, and so can any other bot, scraper, spider, or screen-reader. This means that you can write code that does interesting things with the text on the slideshare pages. You can even copy and paste text from a SlideShare document, something that was always a pain with Flash.”

These types of discussions have been going on since the dawn of the Web. New technologies replacing old. The advent of mobile certainly presents new challenges, and may well alter the landscape. But the end of Flash or Flex has been called wrongly so many times.

Adobe are an innovative company. There are ever more developers moving over to learn and use their Flex and Air products. And frankly, as somebody who has worked with these technologies since their inception, they are just fantastic for building the next generation of Web and mobile apps.

But will the decision by both Apple and now Windows, to not allow plug-ins on their mobile browsers end Flex as we know it? Remember Flex needs the Flash plug-in installed to run in any Web browser. At the moment Flex development continues strongly on the the PC based Web, where the Apple and Windows restrictions do not apply. HTML5 development continues in parallel. But, as many of us continue to believe, if mobile devices do take over from the PC, the mobile Web may well be all about HTML5.

Adobe Air started out life named Apollo. When it was launched, many in the development community could see the thinking behind the release, but never a good place to build Air apps in the PC world. That has all now changed. Air is an installed application, not relying on any browser plug-ins. Mobile Air offers the only cross platform mobile (installed) solution on the market today. No more building mobile apps in 3 different languages or more for each mobile platform. One code base runs on Apple IOS, Android and Blackberry. No need for third party conversions as provided by the likes of PhoneGap for HTML5. Adobe mobile Air apps are both fast and able to interact directly with native code.

Adobe Air and Flex are nearly identical. So looking forward, if Flex becomes less popular due to business decisions made by Apple and Windows; Adobe Air is about to see enormous growth. So maybe there is some truth in those who say its the end of Flex. But its just the beginning of Adobe mobile Air!

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