We live in changing times in the geo-space. Our work with location data as a company, began in the 90’s. Its been an interesting ride; from desktop to Internet, to now the cloud and mobile. New conferences appeared like Where 2.0; too many so called experts and innovators were thrust at us. Much of this left us cold; GIS for the masses with venture capitalists lurking in the background. We became a little cynical.
But truly exciting things are now happening. As the term GIS fades; location data and the integration of other business systems (SAP etc) with geospatial services moves our work from its historic niche, to solving real business problems. With mobile, new location data is becoming available. Mobile apps now provide access to location services, for both the consumer and the Enterprise. ArcGIS Online we see as huge. Its a pleasure to hear guys like Sean Gorman talk about our geospatial future. In fact talking about Sean, here is an excellent recent James Fee interview with the man:
We noted in the original post that without knowing who the list of experts who contributed to the paper were, we were a little hesitant. We do know that Peter Batty added his thoughts. A good guy, but somebody who still talks about, the rather controversial, neoGeography or “new geography”.
Anyway, we digress. After reading the paper a number of times, we felt a little. Well. Deflated. We regard the new world of location technology as very exciting. The paper made for some dry reading; ok it was for the UN and not meant to have us all jumping for joy. But we hoped for a realistic, useful reflection on where the geospatial world is moving. Too much felt like wild guesses, repetition of the obvious, and the unimportant. Ok, we are being harsh, but this is a panel of experts. We expected some expert insight.
We saw reference recently to a paper produced by the United Nations Programme on Global Geospatial Information Management (GGIM) entitled “Future trends in geospatial information management:the five to ten year vision”. Often interesting to read, I sometimes hesitate to point at these papers from this blog. Particularly since the contributors, or ‘leaders in the geospatial world’ as the paper calls them, are not listed. Still here is a link to the paper:
Our previous blog entry showed the initial steps in working with mobile ArcGIS when offline. We ended the post with “whats next? Offline Feature layers and Offline editing”. And that is the topic of this blog post.
As we have mentioned before as a company our focus is mobile location technology. GIS, and specifically ArcGIS, is an important part of this work. We are also advocates of open source software. Now the so called ‘elephant in the room’ of mobile GIS is offline. Everybody wants it, but there remains no practical solution. Both ESRI and Google have discussed rolling out offline solutions. But nothing is yet in place, at least in published API’s.
We are regularly approached about disconnected mobile maps and offline GIS. Its an itch we started to scratch a while ago. Our goal was initially to put in place a solution in the ArcGIS world, upon which we could also base an open source solution. ESRI, and in particular Mansour Raad, have been a big help in moving this work forward. We now have an end to end solution for working with mobile ArcGIS while offline.
Before we describe the work, here is a video which shows an ArcGIS Online webmap being takes offline; that is basemap, feature layers and editing.
ArcGIS Online is a major step forward for mobile ArcGIS. True its not just targeted at mobile, but it has and will make the lives of mobile developers and their clients considerably easier. Why? Let’s make a list:
1) Single endpoint, or webmap to load, in a mobile viewer
2) Easy for users to prepare and publish their data.
3) Shapefiles published to ArcGIS online are converted to Feature layers and pushed to the mobile ArcGIS viewer within the webmap itself.
4) Other data sources can be easily published in ArcGIS online, then rendered in a mobile map viewer.
Those are just some of the advantages.
We’ve just released ‘GeoMobile for ArcGIS Online’ a free mobile app which allows users to load on a mobile tablet, their own published ArcGIS Online webmaps. We designed it to be extensible. So it goes beyond the excellent ESRI mobile widget, in that we can add functionality based on user requirements.
We are approached regularly about offline ArcGIS. Thus the somewhat confusing title of this blog post ArcGIS Online Offline! Here, we will discuss using GeoMobile for ArcGIS Online to access your webmap in an offline mode. The approach we demonstrate could easily be used in our other free mobile app GeoMobile for ArcGIS Server.
Before we describe the offline widget in more detail, here is a demo:
GeoMobile for ArcGIS Online is a free mobile app we launched in July 2012 to the Android Market. In August it will be released in the Apple market. The app allows users to access their ArcGIS Online maps on their iPad and Android tablets. Multiple maps can be accessed, when users set up and host their own configuration file. The mobile ArcGIS app goes beyond what is available in the excellent ESRI mobile app. We are actively extending the functionality of GeoMobile for ArcGIS Online for our clients.
Working with GeoMobile for ArcGIS Online
There are a number of simple steps needed to use GeoMobile for ArcGIS Online:
Step 1 – Setup an ArcGIS Online standard map service
Apple has been praised for its innovation in the mobile space. Criticism of the company has centered around their fixation on absolute control. Their spat with Adobe in 2011 over the Flash Player plugin, effectively forced Adobe to change direction away from Flash and Flex. This was an early sign that Apple would not be playing nice. Legal pressure forced them to allow cross platform apps, like those generated in Mobile Flex, to be made available in their Apple store. But it was not a decision made to placate Adobe. Now we see attacks on rival hardware companies, like the recent Samsung lawsuit:
Other interesting developments include; the dropping of Google Maps in favour of Apple Maps, and the suggestion that their Maps app for iOS will include Yelp check-in feature that ties in with review site Yelp, further integrating social networking and location-based services into iOS 6.
Our thinking has been for the longest time that mobile will revolutionize the field of location-focused technology. Niche areas like GIS will be pulled into the mainstream under the location technology umbrella. Location based services (LBS) will coalesce with other location focused technologies.
As a company, we made a strategic decision nearly 2 years ago to move our focus from GIS development for the PC web, to mobile location app development. This year has been crazy busy. Combine this with Apples recent announcement, the launch of ESRI’s ArcGIS online, and new developments at Google and MapQuest, and we feel our strategy was correct; location is now at center stage in the mobile world. Making the decision when we did has also allowed us to develop expertise, and thus leadership in the location mobile app development space.
Offline or disconnected mode is one of the most in demand client and potential client requests we receive. And yet the main spatial solution providers have only made small steps in this direction. Chatting with ESRI, offline ArcGIS is on their roadmap, but no major releases are planned in the near future. Our interest is cross-platform solutions. So recent iOS and Android specific announcements from the likes of Google, though very interesting, do not serve our clients well.
It was time for us to look into our own solution. We broke down the problem into manageable chunks, then conferred with Mansour at ESRI on the details. Let’s discuss at a high level these pieces.
Offline versus Online Mode
In code we can detect if a mobile device has online connectivity. If it does reach out over the network for map and server functionality. If offline look locally, to the device itself, for resources.
Mobile devices have varying amounts of local storage. They also come with so called lite databases. In offline mode we take advantage of these local resources.
Offline ArcGIS Visualization – Tile Packages
Let’s imagine we have an ArcGIS Online web map we wish to view on our mobile in disconnected mode. Using ArcGIS 10.1 we can now generate a tile package of the layers used in the web map. These .tpk files vary in size, we need to be careful when generating these packages, particularly thinking about the capacity of the mobile device targeted for the mobile ArcGIS app. But once the tile package has been generated this need be stored on the mobile device. Note, tile packages which include base map tiles will need agreement with ESRI since there are various licensing agreements attached to the source of these base tiles.