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 Mobile GIS & LBS
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.

Custom Mobile ArcGIS – Web Maps & ArcGIS.com

 
February 25th, 2012 by Matt Sheehan


We launched GeoMobile for ArcGIS to both demonstrate a custom cross platform (one code base which runs on multiple platforms) mobile ArcGIS app, and experiment with porting widgets from the Flex viewer for ArcGIS. The results have been met with enthusiasm by the user community. By adding a configuration file which the mobile app reads at startup, the app allows users to load their own ArcGIS server layers; so those from their own ArcGIS server instance or cloud based. Our work now mostly revolves around building custom tools for use in the mobile viewer.

Read the rest of Custom Mobile ArcGIS – Web Maps & ArcGIS.com

Mobile GIS – Sharing Map Annotation

 
February 8th, 2012 by Matt Sheehan


We wrote a blog entry a while back called ‘Hot Topics in Mobile GIS’. This was a summary of some of the many client conversations we had in 2011, talking about mobile GIS. Moving away from the use of pen and paper while working in the field, was often mentioned. It remains common for field workers to record data using a pen, notepad and paper map. And to then reassemble their thoughts and notes when back in the office. Inaccuracy and inefficiency seemed a common concern. One client said:

“In our ideal world we would simply give our field workers a mobile device loaded with a mobile GIS app. The worker could then annotate the map on the mobile device, store the annotation on the device and either load it into a GIS application running on their PC when back in the office, or send it to an office based employee to do the same”.

Mobile GIS Flexible Frameworks

Around 6 months ago, we released GeoMobile for ArcGIS; a free mobile app in the iOS, Android and Blackberry app markets. This came from our work writing an article for the Winter edition of ArcUser called ‘Developing a Custom ArcGIS Application for the iPad 2’. GeoMobile for ArcGIS is a flexible cross platform framework written in Mobile Flex. We have found this flexibility to be very useful for extending and customising mobile GIS functionality. Building on this work, we are actually in the process of writing an open source equivalent called GeoMobile for GeoServer.

I digress. Given our clients ‘perfect world’ statement above, we decided to use the GeoMobile for ArcGIS framework to build this ‘perfect’ functionality. The ESRI Flex Viewer for ArcGIS has an advanced drawing widget, which allows users to both annotate an ArcGIS map and save and open the annotation. Perfect. We took this widget and ported it to GeoMobile for ArcGIS; made some adaptations and the results you can see demonstrated in the video link below:

Mobile GIS – Sharing Map Annotation Demo

Now field workers can annotate to their hearts content on their mobile. Add lines, points and polygons. Make notes, right on the map. Pipe broken here. Tree down there. Save this off and open it in the Flex Viewer for ArcGIS on their desktop in the office. And move forward.

We think this could be a mobile solution many organizations could find useful. We plan to build this type of functionality into GeoMobile for GeoServer. We’d be interested in your thoughts; is this mobile GIS functionality you could use within your work flow?

Flexible Mobile GIS Frameworks

 
January 26th, 2012 by Matt Sheehan


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

 
January 24th, 2012 by Matt Sheehan


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

 
January 17th, 2012 by Matt Sheehan

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

 
January 11th, 2012 by Matt Sheehan


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

 
January 7th, 2012 by Matt Sheehan


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

 
January 2nd, 2012 by Matt Sheehan

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.

A Review of Mobile GIS Apps

 
December 14th, 2011 by Matt Sheehan


There are an increasing number of GIS mobile apps available in the various app stores. Surprisingly few are cross platform; meaning one application which is built to run on multiple mobile devices; Apple, Android, BlackBerry. This is likely a result of the early dominance of Apples IPad and IPhone. Many mobile application development companies built apps which were targeted at the Apple devices. Unfortunately the language of choice for Apples IOS – Objective C – is only for Apples platform. If you want the same app to run on an Android device, the app needs rewriting. As we near the end of 2011, with the increasing popularity of Android and increased interest in the BlackBerry Playbook, the need for cross platform solutions puts many of these single platform apps at a disadvantage. The following is a link to an article which discusses some of the mobile GIS apps available in the various app stores. We plan to update it as more mobile apps become available:

Review of Mobile GIS Apps

Mobile GIS App Thoughts

Good GIS apps are now just appearing in the various app stores. Cross platform solutions are a must. As a company, we rarely now get clients asking for a single platform solution. The days of build this for the IPhone or IPad only are gone. ESRI are putting increasing effort into their mobile solutions. They are providing some great tools for companies like ours to build custom mobile GIS solutions for clients. It would be nice to see a good open source mobile GIS app launched into the app stores. An Openlayers/Geoserver mobile app would be a very nice addition. We like the standard Apple design (see WolfGIS), it looks very slick and professional. But we cannot help preferring apps which have their own unique feel and design. One style does not fit all. These will evolve over time.

A Review of the Mobile Market in 2011

 
December 5th, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

Overall Mobile Trends in 2011

Mobile in 2011 has been very much a case of hurry up and wait. Immature is maybe a better way to put it. The market remains consumer focused. Business’ have largely sat on the sidelines. Mobile software innovation has been somewhat limited, with too many copycat ideas; “I want to build a site like Foursquare”. Games continue to dominate. On the hardware front, things are evolving. Tablets were the most hyped item in 2011. Things have been hit and miss here. Notable misses include: the Blackberry Playbook (great platform but the screen is too small), the various split screen releases, and the lack of 3G on many tablets. The IPad2 and Galaxy stand out as hits. Smartphones have evolved. Releases like the Samsung Infuse with large 4.5″ high resolution screens, have vastly improved the user experience.

To summarise our overall thoughts:

1) Mobile is still a consumer focused market, with social networking etc
2) As in the early days of the Internet, business adoption has been slow.
3) Mobile remains a confusing marketplace; hardware and software/platform wars continue.
4) Key business applications of mobile include improving mobile worker productivity, improved real time decision making, email, inventory/warehouse management, field sales force, asset management.
5) Mobile devices remain physically fragile. Rugged cases and more rugged actual devices will reduce concerns.
6) Overall 2011 usage survey – According to a Guardian survey, 84% of tablet owners play games, ahead of even searching for information (78%), emailing (74%) and reading the news (61%). Tablets are predominantly domestic devices, with 82% of people primarily using their tablets at home, versus 11% who say they are used primarily on the go, and 7% who said at work. 28% of respondents said their tablet is now their primary computer, while 43% said they spend more time using their tablet than they do their desktop or laptop computer. The most popular smartphones apps are games, weather, maps, social networking, music, and news.

Businesses are looking at portions of enterprise apps being mobilized. Much of this is focused on 2012, and a maturing mobile market. B2C enablers will flourish as mobile web continues to gain importance as a channel. B2B will remain challenging.

Mobile GIS, LBS & Map Development Tools in 2011

Adobe have been one of the key development tool providers to get behind the mobile revolution. With their increasing focus on mobile AIR for installed mobile applications, and support for HTML5 for mobile web apps. Adobe are one of the companies leading the mobile charge. Many of the major mapping, spatial and location focused companies have turned their attention to mobile. ESRI have launched a number of mobile products to support their ArcGIS flagship. The free mobile app released to the Apple and Android markets, allows users to leverage ArcGIS online to visualize their spatial data. MapQuest have made some very interesting recent announcements, with a new mobile web release (m.mapquest.com), their MQVibe product (mqvibe.com) and release of their mobile Flash api. They provide a comprehensive array of mobile solutions. In the open source world Openlayers is turning its attention to mobile (http://trac.osgeo.org/openlayers/wiki/mobile). Mobile web tools are proliferating. It will be interesting to to test OpenLayers mobile as an installed application using Phonegap. A number of the newer location based service companies, such as Foursquare and SimpleGeo, have opend their apis. Making it possible, for example, to pass a lat/long or current location, and get back a list of venues nearby.

Mobile Software Trends in 2011

The year started with the dominance of the Apple IOS mobile platform. This maintained the demand for Objective-C developers; the native language of IOS. The steady growth in popularity of devices running the Android platform over the year, has seen more demand for Java mobile apps. Apple have continued to throw their weight around, maintaining their stance on preventing third party plug ins to be included in any IOS browser. Effectively stymieing Adobes Flash Player and Microsoft’s Silverlight. The growth of mobile cross browser solutions has been one of the biggest changes this year. For installed applications, Adobe have put their weight behind mobile Adobe AIR. On the Web HTML5/Javascript seems the emerging favored choice. Indeed at their end of year MAX show, Adobe threw in the towel on Flex and Flash (one can speculate in large part due to the Apple plug-in decision). Pushing HTML5 and mobile Adobe AIR. They even went as far as to buy PhoneGap, a technology to convert a web HTML5 mobile app to one which is installable. Then to open source the product, under the Apache license. We are a long way from seeing the end of PC’s, but should that day come so ends the Flash Player. Some of Adobes end of year decisions, makes one wonder whether they have seen the writing on the wall.

Mobile App Development in 2011 – Many Challenges

For developers there have been both opportunities and challenges. The maturing of HTML5, release of Adobe AIR for mobile, and opening of Android market (considerably reducing the pain of distributing mobile apps) have improved the life of mobile developers. Listing some of the challenges:

1) Project issues – changes in spec/scope creep, incomplete specs, and app complexity,
2) Distribution & update issues – multiple markets (Apple. Android, Blackberry), submission policy too long (particularly Apple’s), painful certificate process (again particularly applicable to Apple), expensive and long distribution.
3) Other issues – security, back-end integration, mobile web is a different beast to PC web must design accordingly (UI/work flow)

How are the Public and Private sectors using Mobiles?

Looking back on our year as a company we have had many mobile application development conversations. Ambitious entrepreneurs have formed at least half of these inquiries. Those with good ideas, and limited budgets, looking to better understand how to make these ideas a reality. We expected more media driven ideas; social media apps for example. Certainly there were plenty, but fewer then we expected. Which was a relief. Our real interest is larger scale enterprise mobile application development. Looking for better ways to improve enterprise efficiency using mobile. Both replacing and extending existing software processes. Long term mobile has the potential to change many of the processes within the enterprise. But, as was the case with the Internet, currently only small steps are being taken. We did notice a trend over the year, with more inquiries from larger enterprises. Many of these conversations were informational. But the trend was encouraging and bodes well for 2012. Key application discussions have been around data collection in the field and linking that to GPS location, dynamic data visualisation (GIS layers, routes, traffic), data editing, local search (what is near me). Below is a list of some of the industries/sectors we were approached by in 2011:

a) Forest service – Looking into use of mobile email and testing for GPS accuracy
b) Political campaigns
c) Engineering
d) Agriculture
e) Facility management
f) Outdoor recreation
g) Medicine – self diagnosis and referral
h) Car dealerships
i) Police & Parking meters officer IT providers
j) Surveying
k) Forest management
l) Pipeline, water, transportation

Reflections on WebMapSolutions 2011 Mobile Business Strategy

Just as an aside from general discussions. We thought readers might be interested in how mobile application development companies like ours fared in 2011.

The PC based Web continues to dominate our activities. We’ve put much emphasis on mobile, since we feel this is where much of application development will be focused. But, as we have indicated above, we have found enterprise adoption slower than expected. From a business perspective our mobile strategy has been as follows:

1) Position the company as a mobile application development company focused on location; GIS, maps and location based services (LBS).
2) Write an very active blog on mobile apps and mobile app development.
3) Publish articles. We have has a number of articles published in leading geo and industry specific magazines, in the US and Europe.
4) Build partnerships with key companies – MapQuest, ESRI, Adobe.
5) Write a plethora of demo apps (with supporting videos for marketing) which show the capabilities of online and offline location based mobile apps.
6) Launch GeoMobile for ArcGIS, a free mobile app into the Apple and Android app stores.
7) Provide free application code.
8) Making available free mobile and development planning guides.

It is still hard to gauge the success of this strategy. Our blog has caused a noticeable uptick in Web traffic. Our Web site traffic has changed from 20 daily visits to over 150. Positioning ourselves as a location focused mobile app development company is in may ways redundant. Since most if not all mobile apps will take advantage of GPS and location. But we have had comments from potential clients that they were looking specifically for mobile location app experts. We have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the free mobile app. The fact it is free and user configurable maybe problematic. But in each mobile store the mobile app gets a 4 star rating which we take a positive. Its purpose was simply to demonstrate the potential capabilities of a cross platform mobile GIS application. The demos have proven very powerful. Every mobile contract we have signed this year has been a direct result of a demo. Our partnerships we see as long term relations. We are particularly excited about our MapQuest and ESRI partnerships. Article writing we hope helps raises our profile as industry experts in mobile application development. We are now writing regular columns in two high circulation magazines.

With a core group, within the company, who can advise and consult with clients on their mobile strategy. And a network of highly skilled developers. We feel well positioned for what we expect to be a busy 2012.

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