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Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan
Matt holds an MSc in Geography and GIS. He has been working with clients solving problems with GIS for over 17 years. Matt founded WebMapSolutions whose mission is to put innovative, intuitive GIS driven applications into the hands of new and existing users.

Building Mobile GIS Apps using Titanium

 
May 22nd, 2012 by Matt Sheehan


We build custom cross platform mobile GIS and location based mobile applications. There is our one sentence elevator sales pitch. But what is this cross platform business? Put simply write one code base and run it across multiple platforms. So take your beautiful mobile web application written in HTML5/Javascript convert it to an installed app using Phonegap. Distribute it to the various app stores and you are done. You have created a hybrid mobile app. So why all the fuss over native apps? These are apps written in the language of choice of a specific platform; Objective C for iOS, Java for Android. So multiple versions of the same app need writing for each platform. These sound expensive to write and maintain. As with all things there are advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Our intention here is not to analyze in detail these approaches. We did want to mention, in passing, two key points. Native allows immediate access to new mobile features like rear facing cameras. There is a lag for hybrid to add that functionality. Also performance. Native apps are faster than hybrid. Now whether that makes a difference depends on the apps requirements. From our experience most mobile apps we write are well served by a hybrid approach. But we do look carefully at specs and asses beforehand.

There is a half way house approach now available. Instead of hiring an Objective C developer and Java developer to build your iOS and Android versions of a mobile GIS app respectively. Simply hire a javascript developer. Have him build the app using the Titanium api for example. Then convert the app to native Android and native iOS code. Brilliant. Well definitely maybe.

Here is an excellent article which compares the Titanium approach to that of Phonegap:

http://savagelook.com/blog/portfolio/a-deeper-look-at-appcelerator-and-phonegap>/a>

We’ve discussed in depth the Titanium approach with folks at Appcelerator. No doubt it is a nice product. But there are some limitations. Developers need to learn the Titanium api. Any app you develop which uses third party api’s will need a module built which maps the javascript code to native. In our case we most commonly work with ArcGIS. At present there is no ArcGIS module available for either iOS or Android. We are in discussion with Appcelerator about partnering and maybe building these modules. One last limitation is that if an api has no iOS or Java api no module can be built. Thus api’s like OpenLayers are pure javascript. They thus cannot be used in Titanium. This latter issue may be unavoidable, but it does mean that Titanium is not a universal solution.

But if we find situations where performance is an issue, or we need a newly released mobile feature. And the app can use api’s which can be used by Titanium, we will certainly look at their solution again.

Let us know about your experience with Titanium

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Categories: Mobile ArcGIS, Mobile GIS

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