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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.

Should you build a mobile GIS app for Apple devices only?

August 6th, 2014 by Matt Sheehan

We often have clients come to us and request we build a mobile app for iPad and/or iPhone. Our first question, before touching on functionality is: should you build a mobile GIS app for Apple devices only?

There are many reasons why building a mobile GIS app for just one platform (Apple iOS in this case) makes sense. Maybe your staff all have, and love, iPads and iPhones. They are comfortable with Apple products, and your IT department is set up to support iOS devices alone. I know many iOS fans who would cringe at the suggestion of switching to Android, for example. Apps which run on Apple devices are usually (and we will come back to this) written in a programming language called Objective-C. A language unique, or native, to Apple.

So great, we have our wonderful new mobile GIS app. Staff are pulling out their iPhones and iPads, opening the app and loving how mobile GIS is improving how they work. Let’s imagine one of the companies IT decision makers is given a new tablet, say the just released Windows Surface Pro. He sees how easy it is to move from office to out of office, and take all his software, and documents with him. No more struggles to work with word documents or excel on his iPad when on a business trip etc. He decides he’d like Windows Surface Pro to also be available to staff, with iPads. Wonderful. All works beautifully until …. a member of staff using the Windows Surface Pro asks for a copy of our mobile GIS app!

Windows native apps are written in .NET (Android in Java). Our app is written in Objective-C for iOS. That means a second version of the app will need to be written.


The down side to building a mobile GIS app for Apple devices only is that you are stuck with Apple only. That maybe fine, but as technology changes so rapidly, being locked into one platform is maybe a huge disadvantage.

So what are your options?

There are many. Plan carefully, and work closely with your mobile GIS contractor or developers. GIS mobile apps can be written which allow for easy and low cost ways to generate multiple version for different platforms.

Are you facing similar challenges? Let us know.

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Categories: ArcGIS Online, cloud GIS, Mobile ArcGIS, Mobile GIS, Web and mobile GIS

2 Responses to “Should you build a mobile GIS app for Apple devices only?”

  1. Carl Reed says:

    Matt –

    One solution is to ignore “open” APIs that lock developers into a single proprietary technology stack and instead look for standard interfaces and encodings that are mobile technology and OS neutral. For example, the KRONOS organization’s StreamInput, aCross-platform advanced sensor processing and user interaction. This API provides vendor and OS neutral access to onboard sensors. And the OGC is working on a number of lightweight APIs for the Internet of Things, mobile devices, and so forth. The nice advantage of the OGC work is lessons learned from previous geo standards development and harmonization and consistency with a number of international standards for modeling and encoding location/geographic information. Finally, the OGC Open GeoSMS Encoding standard is well on its way to becoming an ITU standard. Easy to implement, light weight, and blessed by a de-jure standards organization.


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