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 Mobile GIS & LBS

Archive for January, 2012

Flexible Mobile GIS Frameworks

Thursday, January 26th, 2012


We have spoken on this blog before about the release of our free mobile GIS app called GeoMobile for ArcGIS. The link below will take you to a more detailed discussion:

http://www.webmapsolutions.com/free-mobile-arcgis-viewer-upgraded

Our logic for the release was:

  • To demonstrate a custom ArcGIS mobile application
  • Build a cross platform mobile GIS app or one code base which runs on multiple platforms; iOS, Android, Blackberry
  • Model the app on the ESRI ArGIS Flex viewer; a flexible framework allows widgets to be easily dropped into the mobile app to extend functionality

So an extensible mobile ArcGIS framework for data visualization, search, query, update/editing, data collection etc. We never imagined it to be an out of the box mobile app; a generic $4.99 mobile app. It was a first step into the mobile GIS world for a number of our engineers. And ultimately resulted in us moving from a PC Web focused application development company to fully mobile developers. So we’ve put all our eggs in one basket; mobile. Taking a risk? We don’t think so. Our focus is location data, mobile enhances what we can now provide clients. One day, not far off, we think the location and GIS community will wonder how they ever got their jobs done stuck in an office. There is another side to this, and that is the potential location and mobile presents for all apps. As Ryan Kim at GigaOM.com said in early 2011:

“We’re still a ways off from our prediction that every mobile app will have location integration. But we’re seeing that potential reality take shape more and more”

The GIS tag may be less used with time. GIS Developer may simply be replaced by Location Focused Developer.

We have digressed from the thrust of this post. In a recent article entitled ‘Hot Topics in Mobile GIS’ we reprinted some of the conversations we had with clients in 2011:

http://www.webmapsolutions.com/hot-topics-mobile-gis

Maybe the ‘hottest item’ at the minute is online/offline mobile data collection and editing. There are an increasing number of apps now available which offer the ability to load and edit shapefiles. Many have a GIS tag; Wolf GIS, GIS Pro, GISRoam. We wrote a review of some at the link below:

http://www.webmapsolutions.com/mobile-gis-apps-2

and compared them in action in this video:

http://www.webmapsolutions.com/video-comparing-gis-mobile-apps

Our main finding was that most are built for iOS only. And all used the Google maps API. Google maps for GIS I hear you cry. Indeed. Google maps was never designed for GIS. The issues we highlight in the comparison video above are a result of the use of the Google maps API. So cool mobile apps built using the wrong API.

Flexible Framework using a Mobile GIS API

To build a mobile GIS application you need to use a GIS API. Extending the functionality of this mobile GIS application you need a flexible framework. To cut costs as users broaden the mobile devices and platforms they use; you need a cross platform solution.

This has become our company mantra!

Nah, but it makes much sense.

GeoMobile for ArcGIS taught us much about the future of mobile GIS. The feedback we are getting from users has guided our thinking as we move forward. Having a flexible cross platform mobile ArcGIS framework has allowed us to extend this work to fit client needs. As already said, we don’t imagine releasing an off the shelf mobile GIS app for $4.99. We build custom mobile GIS solutions to fit client needs. We work closely with ESRI, and have a good feel for what is coming in the next 12 months. This helps us gear our solutions to where they are moving.

Our next big release will be GeoMobile for GeoServer; an open source version of GeoMobile for ArcGIS. We are looking at both OpenLayers and OpenScales as potential client (software) API’s. A flexible cross platform mobile open source GIS framework.

We live in exciting (flexible) times.

Let us know your thoughts on mobile GIS. Maybe you are developing cool mobile GIS apps. Or looking for a mobile GIS solution. Contact us

Hot Topics in Mobile GIS

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012


We recently looked back over client and potential client feedback in 2011. There were definitely some re-occurring themes. Here we summarise some of these conversations:

1) Mining

We’d like to display in a mobile map app dynamic sensor data (click on map point and its shows current data)

2) Cultural Resource Management

“Even though GPS technology has been readily adopted in the profession, it is still mostly wedded to a system of paper forms and (often) disconnected implementations of ArcGIS based map creation and non-geo-referenced photos. We’d like a mobile ArcGIS app to replace these systems.”

This reminds us of many other areas where paper and pen remain the field recording equipment of choice. Mobile apps allow users to record data using tablet based forms, and basic geo-referencing. Combine this with GIS and a wide array of tools become available. Stephens cites some examples:

“If one is recording an historic building or archaeological sites, one can take a decent resolution image, complete the form electronically, and consider view shed/buffering without juggling several devices and a handful of forms as well. I can also see value when doing a field inventory for something like a wireless tower where viewsheds and buffers are important. It would also be very useful for situations where one is doing resource monitoring (making sure a client doesn’t impact something).”

3) Natural Resources Management

“We have a diverse natural resources management program going on here, and I can see this used for several of our field activities. Particularly of interest, though, is using this for collecting survey data. We are currently doing things horribly old-fashioned: collecting GPS points and logging attribute data on paper forms in the field, then coming back to the office to download points and enter into a database.”

“We collect a few different types of data during surveys: any threatened or endangered species, all species present for certain transects, and incipient and invasive species. Spatial datasets are then updated as needed. It requires a lot of attention just to make sure data gets organized properly. For years, we’ve talked about getting a nice set of Juniper systems with ArcPad, but it’s a pretty big investment. The proliferation of mobile devices, and new mobile GIS apps, seem like a more cost-effective means of achieving similar functionality. Could you build a mobile GIS solution using the new mobile platforms?”

4) Civil Engineering

“We simply want an easy way to update our GIS from the field. To overlay pipeline and manhole layers for example on a basemap, and view on an IPad, would be a big benefit to our field crews. Mobile ArcGIS or even an open source solution maybe using Geoserver would be ideal. More than that, if we were able then to update a GIS where we see inaccuracies in both the path of the pipeline and attributes of a manhole, that would be simply huge. We would want a sanity check. Whereby any updates were processes first by our GIS administrator before they were committed to the GIS”

5) Genealogy

We want to build a genealogical tool, which allows people to make notes, take photos etc in the field of relative gravestones. Store this data, map it, and share it. Routing would be a nice addition. We wondered whether the new mobile MapQuest releases might provide us a potential solution.

6) Outdoor Recreation Mobile App

We want to build a mobile app where users can zoom to an area of interest and see local data eg lake depth, camping facilities etc. We’d like users to be able to make notes and store them for later reference. eg. on 27th Dec I caught a trout at this location at this depth etc.

7) Invisible Car Dealer

When are new/used car searching. We want a mobile app which when turned on loads the dealerships within a certain distance. Select a dealership, allows users to browse cars on the lot. Routing to and between dealerships would be a nice addition

8) Political Campaigning

Current systems used by both political parties are archaic. Canvassing is critical in campaigning .. see blog article from this conversation:

http://www.webmapsolutions.com/android-ipad-political-campaigns

9) Fibre Optics

We use BlackBerry Playbook. We would love to have the ability to overlay our fibre lines as layers on a mobile map. Both online and offline.

10) Forest Management

A big challenge for us is viewing data in an offline mode. Tree cover may reduce GPS accuracy. Viewing and recording data while in the field will make our field workers life so much easier.

11) Agriculture Pest Control

We would love to see areas marked on a mobile map or mobile ArcGIS, which show the extent of an area last treated with a particular (pest control) chemical. So simply layer overlay. Updating this data when a new treatment is done would be the next need.

In terms of volume of requests, 2011 saw inquiries rise dramatically. The approaches came from many different sectors. Field data visualization and recording were overwhelmingly the most common themes. Many clients were looking at mobile GIS for the first time, and in many cases were looking to build proof of concept type mobile apps. Mobile ArcGIS was the most popular technology request, but we also received many approaches about potentially cheaper open source mobile GIS solutions.

As 2012 begins we see the interest in mobile ArcGIS and mobile GIS in general continuing to grow.

Mobile GIS & Resource Management

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Mobile GIS in Archaeology and Historical Preservation

Cultural Resource Management relates to archaeology and historical preservation. We had a recent email from somebody working in this area – thanks Stephen – who discussed how mobile applications, particularly those which utilize GIS, would be a huge help.

Stephen sees an important place for mobile GIS apps in the world of archaeology and historical preservation. He writes:

“Even though GPS technology has been readily adopted in the profession, it is still mostly wedded to a system of paper forms and (often) disconnected implementations of ArcGIS based map creation and non-geo-referenced photos”

This reminds us of many other areas where paper and pen remain the field recording equipment of choice. Mobile apps allow users to record data using tablet based forms, and basic geo-referencing. Combine this with GIS and a wide array of tools become available. Stephens cites some examples:

“If one is recording an historic building or archaeological sites, one can take a decent resolution image, complete the form electronically, and consider view shed/buffering without juggling several devices and a handful of forms as well. I can also see value when doing a field inventory for something like a wireless tower where viewsheds and buffers are important. It would also be very useful for situations where one is doing resource monitoring (making sure a client doesn’t impact something).”

Mobile GIS in Natural Resources Management

Another recent conversation we have had revolved around natural resource management:

“We have a diverse natural resources management program going on here, and I can see this used for several of our field activities. Particularly of interest, though, is using this for collecting survey data. We are currently doing things horribly old-fashioned: collecting GPS points and logging attribute data on paper forms in the field, then coming back to the office to download points and enter into a database.”

“We collect a few different types of data during surveys: any threatened or endangered species, all species present for certain transects, and incipient and invasive species. Spatial datasets are then updated as needed. It requires a lot of attention just to make sure data gets organized properly. For years, we’ve talked about getting a nice set of Juniper systems with ArcPad, but it’s a pretty big investment. The proliferation of mobile devices, and new mobile GIS apps, seem like a more cost-effective means of achieving similar functionality.”

Mobile GIS in Civil Engineering

Finally civil engineers are looking for solutions to improve how field workers record and update data:

“We simply want an easy way to update our GIS from the field. To overlay pipeline and manhole layers for example on a basemap, and view on an IPad, would be a big benefit to our field crews. More than that, if we were able then to update a GIS where we see inaccuracies in both the path of the pipeline and attributes of a manhole, that would be simply huge. We would want a sanity check. Whereby any updates were processed first by our GIS administrator before they were committed to the GIS”

Mobile GIS Solutions

With an increasing number of these types of inquiries, we have been looking at the implementation of solutions. The link below is to a video showing an online/offline feature editing solution:

Mobile GIS Editing

We are actively looking at building GeoMobile for Geoserver (we already have released GeoMobile for ArcGIS), an open source mobile GIS viewer. Feature editing as described above will be an important consideration.

Go to our contacts page and let us know the challenges you are facing in the field viewing, editing and adding new data.

Mobile Location Apps Review

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012


Monetizing geographic information became all the rage in 2011. Once geographic information meant maps. Clever systems were developed – geographic information systems or GIS – to store and allow analysis and visualization of geographic data. Mobile – smartphones and portable tablets – have broadened both the interest and potential of location for making money. The geo tag has been prep-ended to an increasing number of words; geo-marketing, geo-advertising, geo-social. A slew of new, so called, location based service (LBS) companies have appeared; Foursquare, Yelp.

This article looks at mobile location apps, and discusses some opportunities for companies to build their own custom location apps.

Mobile Location Apps – Check-In

Check-in is hot at the minute. Pull out your smartphone, fire up your foursquare app and check-in as you enter your favourite store. Presto you might become mayor or get a discount on a purchase. Gathering user data in this way, has the business community excited. Knowing a users current location, allows for interaction at the point of purchase. Maybe pushing coupons or suggestions for purchases.

But the check-in can be used far more broadly than for mobile consumer marketing. Any mobile user or worker can use check-in apps. These types of mobile apps will become crucial in keeping track of mobile workers. They will also allow mobile workers to dynamically report work related information; work completed, parts required, voice records or images of work related information. A check-in application will not only find current location and what is nearby, but allow immediate input of data.

Mobile Location Apps – B to C Marketing

Sitting under the marketing umbrella is now geo-marketing or location-based marketing. This is a part of the rapidly expanding world of mobile consumer marketing. Services such as Foursquare encourage consumer loyalty, driven by discounts and status. Stores can build campaigns using Foursquare. Groupon offer digital coupons. They are partnering with LBS focused companies like Foursquare, as part of the discount offering. Consumer oriented companies can build campaigns using these various location based services (LBS).

Many other ideas revolve around opt-in models with auto-checkin – as against manual check-in – and text message push through SMS and MMS. Proximity marketing is geo targeted advertising using push technology.

Location based service and geolocation services are rapidly evolving. Many companies are entering the fray. As we will discuss, many of the LBS companies have opened their API’s. Meaning developers can now interact with core data. This thus allows the development of custom location based solutions. Now it is possible to pass a location to Foursquare or SimpleGeo and get back venues within a certain distance of this location. Near a point one can now conduct a venue search to find and display trending locations, find and display friends’ tips, and show how many venues match a particular criteria the user has been to.

As a company, we have been increasingly tapping into these rich API’s to build custom location based applications.

Mobile Location Apps – Geo-Social Marketing (Who or What is near Me)

Facebook and Twitter were pioneers of social networking, with mobile they have started extending their reach to include geo-social marketing. Geo-social networking allows users to interact relative to their current locations. Thus you can search for users in your network who are nearby, or by venue. For business this means potential group messaging and ad targeting. Users can share likes, maybe meet at a specified location. At every step of their interaction there is the potential for mobile marketing and advertising.

Twitter now allow geo-tagged tweets. They have also opened their API for developers. Twitter is a public broadcasting system. A public message is much more relevant when you know who, what, when, AND where. There are numerous websites and applications that search specific cities to find local tweets. A tweet that is geo-tagged to that location will appear in that search. In this way, tweets can be broadcast-ed to a small region. Beyond search tweets can be used to maybe track the status and location of a package. Or perhaps offer store information or discounts.

Geo-social networking offers the opportunity to tie who is near me with what is near me. Influencing group behaviour is a new addition to the marketers arsenal.

Mobile Location Apps – B to B Marketing

Much of the current focus has been on B2C location marketing. But B2B location marketing offers huge potential opportunities. Both for internal organisation and community, and building external business relations. We’ve discussed some of the benefits of the check-in for mobile workers. Encouraging check-in at promotional events and tradeshows has the potential to help customer interaction and follow up. Internal communication can be improved by social and geo-social networking tools. Helping management and employees achieve stronger internal relations, and improve the internal flow of information. Tweets can be used quick snapshots of company information. Sales teams can help track performance and evolving sales cycles in real-time.

Business travellers will be key users of mobile location services. Businesses can use various tactics to engage these users. Hotel chains have started welcoming visitors to the city where they will be staying. This has helped with brand reinforcement.

Mobile GIS

Maps and geospatial analysis, will always be an important part of the location mix. The ability to visualize the location of a friend, a store, map out a route. Analysis sits in the geographic information systems (GIS) or geospatial services world. As a company we have historically been focused in this area. GIS remains separated from the new location based services. At some point there will be integration. Where the power of GIS is brought to bear on location based data. What does this mean? At some point the huge amounts of data being gathered by LBS companies will be stored in spatially aware systems like a GIS. Allowing both the analysis and visualisation, via maps and charts, of this data. GIS will help plan and organise location based marketing campaigns. It will help analyse and visualize the campaign both during and after the event. WebMapSolutions are currently actively working with mobile GIS and applying these tools to location based services.

Mobile Location Apps in 2012

Mobile location apps will receive increasing publicity in 2012. Opportunities abound to provide innovative mobile solutions to both consumers and enterprises.

Location-as-a-service and SoLoMo are becoming popular services. Ryan Kim of GIGAOM stated in 2011:

“We’re still a ways off from our prediction that every mobile app will have location integration. But we’re seeing that potential reality take shape more and more”

Kim talks at length about location-as-a-service whereby providers create the tools necessary for developers to weave location into their apps. We’ve already mentioned Foursquare and SimpleGeo. But Location Labs (geofencing), Xtify (smart notifications), Skyhook (hybrid Wi-Fi, GPS and cell-tower technology), Loc-Aid (location-based service aggregator) can be added to the list.

Elsewhere there is talk that 2012 is going to be The Year of SoLoMo (Social, local, and mobile). As Margaret Mastrogiacomo of HeBS Digital puts it:

“Social speaks to what we do as human beings and how we share our travel experiences, mobile speaks to our “always on-the-go” nature, and local speaks to the need for information from our immediate environment.”

“Instead of researching attractions during a hotel stay, mobile applications will detect a traveller’s location, what they are looking for, provide directions, push specials based on geo location, and even allow guests to share their experiences in real time. SoLoMo will ultimately provide more customer service solutions to enhance the travel experience”

We see two key opportunities in 2012 with regards mobile location apps. The first is the maturing of the business to consumer market. Beginning to link consumer profiles to location, time of day for example. As Margaret Mastrogiacomo says:

“Imagine serving a mobile ad or coupon promoting your onsite restaurant’s happy hour from 6-8 to a business traveller located within 5 miles of your hotel with a particular interest in dining and entertainment”

The second is the growth of business to business mobile location apps. Enterprises remain cautious over the adoption of mobile. The various app stores have yet to properly cater to the enterprise. Mobile apps which include location will become increasingly more important to the enterprise. Field workers will be the first to benefit from enterprise mobile adoption. But mobile location apps will, in 2012, start to become essential to the organisation and operation of many more businesses.

We would be interested in your feedback. Are you building mobile location apps? Is your company planning to have developed a mobile location app in 2012? Contact us

Mobile GIS Feature Editing Part 2

Saturday, January 7th, 2012


This is part 2 of a discussion on mobile GIS and feature editing. In part 1 we began the discussion. Here we spoke about saving basemap tiles and shapefiles to the mobile device. How shapefiles can be represented (overlaid) on the map in a number of, less than perfect, ways. We discussed other mobile GIS type apps which load shapefiles. We have actually just created a video which compares a number of these mobile GIS apps, with a focus on shapefile and attribute query. In this article we will take this discussion further and look at possible solutions

Online/Offline Mobile GIS Feature Editing

There are a number of approaches which can be taken when looking at solutions for online and offline feature editing and data recording:

  1. Using the feature layer in ArcGIS – Discussed in this link from ESRI iOS ArcGIS Feature Editing
  2. Writing feature changes and attribute updates to local files on the mobile device (shown below)

Mobile GIS Feature Editing Demo & Local Files

The link below shows a demo of a mobile ArcGIS app showing feature editing on a Samsung mobile smartphone.

Mobile GIS Feature Editing

Discussion

We have discussed in other blog posts how pen and paper are still widely used in the field for recording new and updating existing data respectively. We know ESRI are working on solutions to both viewing layers and editing features in both online and offline modes. The feature layer – ESRI’s equivalent to WFS – approach linked to above is just for the iOS platform. So far we see no cross platform or Android specific mobile ArcGIS solutions. We’ve asked (weeks ago) and still await a reply. The approach allows online/offline feature updating then auto ArcGIS server syncing. We presume the final commit to ArcGIS would be done by a GIS administrator, so no direct update from the field.

But what do you do if you have an old version of ArcGIS server, don’t have feature layers or are using an open source solution?

Solution 2 above, using local files to record data, is a simple and robust solution. This approach is simple, and does not tie you to the latest ArcGIS server release. The video above shows two types of updates. First updating a features geometry. Imagine a pipeline layer which, in sections, is inaccurately represented. Using a markup tool as shown allows users in the field to redraw these sections. This markup is stored in a file and can be loaded by a GIS administrator for a sanity check and GIS update. The markup tool could also be used for adding new features; maybe a new section of pipeline. Second there is updating a features attributes. Loading a locally stored shapefile, editing a features attributes from this shapefile, storing these changes in a local file and sending this to the GIS administrator, again for GIS update.

We are actively looking at building GeoMobile for Geoserver (we already have released GeoMobile for ArcGIS), an open source mobile GIS viewer. Feature editing as described above will be an important consideration.

We’d be interested in any feedback you might have on this article. We have received many inquiries about online and offline data collection and editing functionality. Have you taken one of these approaches, or something different? Is this an area you too are looking for a solution? Tell us more

Offline Mobile GIS Feature Editing Part 1

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

An issue we often get questions about relates to offline GIS and mapping. How do we take our mobile device into an area which lacks WI-FI connectivity and still be able to access base maps and our layers? More than that how do we make edits to or update spatial features and sync these with a central server like ArcGIS? We have been pondering particularly this latter question for a while. Mansour Raad at ESRI, has been a huge help. We adapted some of his code and loaded both base map tiles and a shapefile on a smartphone. More than that we added the ability for users to tap a feature and, eureka, a pop up of the feature attributes appeared. I’ll admit we were jumping up and down in the office when we managed to get all working. Here is are two videos of the app.

Offline Mobile ArcGIS Basemaps and shapefiles

Offline Mobile ArcGIS Feature Editing

But. After testing we did find one problem. The shapefiles loaded very very slowly! Hmmm ….!

Let me digress for a moment. We recently wrote a surprisingly popular blog post reviewing available mobile GIS apps. What did we find? Amongst other things a lack of cross platform apps. Too many are just built for the Apple iOS platform. Also most do not use a spatial server. They are pseudo GIS apps. Meaning they have some GIS functionality but are not driven by a GIS. To us unless ArcGIS or GeoServer are on the server side of the mobile app, call it a clever mapping app. Not GIS. But a number use shapefiles, both loading and rendering and generating. Nice functionality. But none, that we have found, allow feature editing, and centralised storage. The latter is key since collaboration will always be important. Others will want to see and use your updates.

Ok, with that out of the way. Let’s look at the question posed. How does a true GIS mobile app allow non WI-FI connected users to visualize, edit and update layers in ArcGIS? As the videos above shows, base maps tiles loaded onto a mobile device for offline use are no problem. But ArcGIS layers are rendered on the fly. Meaning when online, each zoom or pan requires redrawing of the layer by ArcGIS. How do we store this in offline mode? The obvious choice is a shapefile. So store this spatial layer entity on the device. Load it when required.

Mobile GIS – Querying and Editing Features in a Shapefile

This brings us back to the slow load. In the demo we are using Adobe AIR. The applications takes the geometries in the shapefile and physically draws them. Slow .. you betcha. There are other approaches. Fast layers (again thanks Mansour) in one. Here we can improve the speed of drawing.

Another is not drawing the geometry, but converting the shapefile to a bitmap. Adobe AIR handles bitmaps super fast. So multiple pictures are loaded on the screen. The pictures represent shapefiles. One more potential approach is to convert to svg.

But, click on a feature in, say, a bitmap, maybe a single county in a state, and you are clicking on a picture. How do you relate the point click to the feature? More than that if you want to edit the attributes of that feature, again how do we store this data?

Mobile GIS – Offline Changes Synced with ArcGIS

Lastly, and most importantly, if we want others to have access to these updates how do we upload this data to ArcGIS?

As mentioned we have had requests for this functionality. We feel this relative trickle of emails may become a flood in 2012. So finding a solutions to this conundrum is something we are giving particular attention.

This is part 1 of a two part post. Here we laid out the question. Next we will discuss possible solutions.

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