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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.

Q&A – Mobile App Development Planning

October 14th, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

Q. We want to build a mobile application. Where should we begin?

Before jumping in, first get a better understanding of mobile. That does not mean trying to understand the intricacies of the technology. But a good general picture of this still confusing mobile world will be a big help in the long term?

Q: I’ve tried surfing the Web to learn more about mobile, but remain confused. Is there a good source I can go to which explains in simple terms mobile and mobile application development?

Many Web mobile articles are too technical. Bu it is worth spending time looking for good introductory articles. Talking to mobile application development companies can also be a good idea. Sales and marketing people may be helpful. Better would be to talk to an actual developer or individual with a technical background. That can be somewhat daunting. But often technical folk can help demystify things. But be warned, steer them clear of technical jargon. Some companies offer free initial consultations. We’ve trained our technical staff to make consultations jargon free. We can certainly answer your questions. But don’t stop with us, talk to others. Build your knowledge base, so you have a clear understanding of all your options.

Q: Ok, I’ve spoken to a number of companies, and have a good idea of the mobile landscape. I understand I have the option of a mobile Web application or an installed mobile application. Tell us more?

A mobile Web application is like any Web application you can access from your PC. It is just optimized for mobile. When I say optimized I mean it has a simpler design (mobile screens are smaller) and built for finger interaction (as against mouse). Most people are looking for cross platform mobile Web apps, or an application which runs on all mobile browsers. That means in terms of development choices Flash, Flex, Silverlight are out. HTML5/Javascript is best choice.

Installed applications are those downloaded from the Apple App Store and Android Market. To have an application built you have two options; a native app or hybird. So for Apple a native app would be written in Objective C. Will that same app run on an Android device. Yes but only if you write it in a different language. Step up hybrid apps. These you write once and deploy to all devices. Application written in Adobe mobile AIR are hybrid. Are there advantages one over the other? Some, but maybe not enough to incur the cost of multiple native apps.

Q. Which is better an installed or mobile Web application?

That depends (you knew I would say that). Web apps are easier to distribute, just provide a URL and bingo. Write the mobile web app in HTML5/javascript and you have a cross platform solution. But try to store an image taken with a camera, and you are out of luck. Hybrid apps are available through an app store. You can charge for every download. Reaching deeper into the guts of the device, to store data in a local database is easy. Just a few examples of strenths and weaknesses. Everything depends on the apps functionality and the business model you might have in place.

Q. Can you convert a mobile (Javascript) Web application to an installed app?

Yes you can use PhoneGap. Now owned by Adobe who have promised to keep it open source.

Q: Your company specialize in building location focused mobile applications, does that mean you build mapping applications?

Certainly maps are a part of what we do. But our real focus is location. Answering questions like what or who is near me.

On the mapping side we’ve partnered with MapQuest to provide cross platform routing, traffic and local search mobile capabilities. We also work closely with ESRI to provide mobile GIS solutions using their ArcGIS product. In fact we have just launched GeoMobile for ArcGIS, a free mobile ArcGIS viewer.

But we define ourselves by location. Mobile devices have on-board GPS, so at any time the device can report where it is. That means an application running on the devices can reach out to Foursquare, Yelp or any other social networking company which shares their data. Passing current location to these provider will allow a mobile application to list data they can provide; people nearby, Mexican restaurants within 5 miles etc. We have been very involved with building apps focused on data collection by location. Field workers on site often need to collect data and link that to the collection point, surveyors, field repair crews, field technicians to name a few. Storing this data in a central computer extremely valuable and very efficient.

Q: Mobiles are still relatively new, mobile application development is both complicated and expensive. We will hold off on developing mobile apps, do you think we are being sensible?

Don’t be scared of mobile. For development the smoke is clearing. New developments by Adobe and HTML5 have helped provide less complex, simpler solutions. Mobile may well be the future of networked computing. Be careful not to be left behind.

Q. How much will a mobile application cost me to build?

Ah, the question we all want answered. Mobile app development continues to come at a cost premium. This will change with time. Depending on where you are, expect to pay in excess of $100 hr. Remember the old adage “if you pay peanuts you will get monkeys”. Hiring top development companies is what you should targeting. They don’t need to be big, but need strength and depth of experience and skills.

The development process usually looks like this:

  • Initial consultation – idea sharing
  • Planning – wireframe and architecture design
  • Design – application look and feel
  • Coding – let the nerds at it
  • Testing
  • Delivery

Q. How can we reach you?

You can reach us on 801-733-0723 or email

Free Mobile ArcGIS Apps

October 10th, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

There are increasingly more ArcGIS apps in the various app stores. ESRI have their ArcGIS Mobile viewer in the Apple store. This renders data published to ArcGISOnline. A number of nice tools have been included in the app to allow data interaction. It is available here:

ESRI ArcGIS Mobile Viewer in Apple Store

Our company have also just released a cross platform ArcGIS mobile map viewer to the Apple, Android and BlackBerry app stores. Based on the popular Web based ESRI Flex ArcGIS viewer, it was released as a free download.

We have just updated this initial version. A key addition to this new version is the ability of users to host their own configuration file, which controls the layers loaded by the viewer. Users can now add their own ArcGIS Dynamic, Tiled and Feature layers to the viewer.

Here is a full list of changes:

1. Application now reads a config file, hosted on any Web server, allowing users to add multiple layers.
2. Routing Widget added.
3. Query Widget added.
4. Minimize button added to all widgets.
5. Viewer can now load Feature Layers.
6. Fix for Geocoder Widget.
7. Fixes for Measure Widget.
8. Fixes for Layer Widget

The following video shows a demo of the new version running on the IPad:

GeoMobile for ArcGIS Demo

The app is a free download. At present it is the only cross platform custom ArcGIS viewer in any of the app stores. This new release is available in the Apple and Android stores from these links:

Free Mobile ArcGIS Viewer in Apple Store

Free Mobile ArcGIS Viewer in Android Market

The viewer should give users a feel for the possibilities presented by ArcGIS on mobile devices. The reason for releasing this as a free app is to encourage user feedback; general reactions, things that work well or badly, what else users would like to see.

Let me know your thoughts on these applications, and any other cool free mobile GIS apps.

GeoSpatial Mobile Development: Flex or HTML5?

October 2nd, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

I came across two interesting posts today. From James Fee on his excellent Spatially Adjusted blog:

“JavaScript not Flex/Silverlight — Yeah, it isn’t much of a surprise, open source users aren’t big Flex or Silverlight users, but JavaScript HTML5 web apps are everywhere and doing everything Flex/Silverlight can do, but work everywhere …. At this point it is safe to call every Flex/Silverlight location app as legacy as nobody in their right mind would be coding with those tools in 2012.”

and this on the Slideshare Blog:

“Ditching Flash for HTML5 feels like the right choice for us for a number of engineering reasons.

1. The exact same HTML5 documents work on the iPhone / iPad, Android phones/tablets, and modern desktop browsers. This is great from an operations perspective. This saves us from extra storage costs, and maximizes the cache hit ration on our CDN (since a desktop request fills the cache for a mobile request, and vice-versa). It’s also great from a software engineering perspective, because we can put all our energy into supporting one format and making it really great.

2. Documents load 30% faster and are 40% smaller. ‘Nuff said on that front, faster is ALWAYS better.

3. The documents are semantic and accessible. Google can parse it and index the documents, and so can any other bot, scraper, spider, or screen-reader. This means that you can write code that does interesting things with the text on the slideshare pages. You can even copy and paste text from a SlideShare document, something that was always a pain with Flash.”

These types of discussions have been going on since the dawn of the Web. New technologies replacing old. The advent of mobile certainly presents new challenges, and may well alter the landscape. But the end of Flash or Flex has been called wrongly so many times.

Adobe are an innovative company. There are ever more developers moving over to learn and use their Flex and Air products. And frankly, as somebody who has worked with these technologies since their inception, they are just fantastic for building the next generation of Web and mobile apps.

But will the decision by both Apple and now Windows, to not allow plug-ins on their mobile browsers end Flex as we know it? Remember Flex needs the Flash plug-in installed to run in any Web browser. At the moment Flex development continues strongly on the the PC based Web, where the Apple and Windows restrictions do not apply. HTML5 development continues in parallel. But, as many of us continue to believe, if mobile devices do take over from the PC, the mobile Web may well be all about HTML5.

Adobe Air started out life named Apollo. When it was launched, many in the development community could see the thinking behind the release, but never a good place to build Air apps in the PC world. That has all now changed. Air is an installed application, not relying on any browser plug-ins. Mobile Air offers the only cross platform mobile (installed) solution on the market today. No more building mobile apps in 3 different languages or more for each mobile platform. One code base runs on Apple IOS, Android and Blackberry. No need for third party conversions as provided by the likes of PhoneGap for HTML5. Adobe mobile Air apps are both fast and able to interact directly with native code.

Adobe Air and Flex are nearly identical. So looking forward, if Flex becomes less popular due to business decisions made by Apple and Windows; Adobe Air is about to see enormous growth. So maybe there is some truth in those who say its the end of Flex. But its just the beginning of Adobe mobile Air!

GeoSpatial Mobile Developers

September 22nd, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

As a company, we sometimes wonder who are our competition. Fundamentally we build mobile location based solutions, both mobile GIS and location based services. Turning to Google I tried some searches. A number of variation on a theme so; mobile gis application developers, geo-spatial mobile developers, mobile location based application developers, mobile location services, location cross platform mobile development. To my amazement the searches came back with very few companies. Very strange. It seems an obvious fit; mobile applications which take advantage of, and utilize mobile data.

Is geo-spatial or location based mobile application development just a niche? Maybe most application development companies are focused on general mobile app development? Perhaps its because mobile is so new, that both clients and software development companies are still trying to fit mobile into their overall plan.

Mobile Location Services

The mobile location sector is very fragmented at the moment. On one side we have ESRI, the worlds biggest GIS company. They were slow in entering the Web, they are moving quicker with mobile, but their world remains GIS focused. And that is a niche no doubt. They have yet to broaden their appeal beyond their core, mostly public, GIS community.

Mobile Application Development IPad

Figure 1: ESRI ArcGIS running on the IPad

The location based sector is more dynamic. Its somewhat a bubble at the minute, with tonnes of VC money pouring into some frankly daft ideas. But there are some gems within that world. Like the dot com boom and bust, many will fall but some real innovation will come from this sector. There are huge opportunities to build location based applications, classed as location based services (LBS), to use in marketing, advertising and beyond on mobile devices. At present this sector is narrowly focused on consumers. Broadening solutions to the enterprise offers mouth watering possibilities. Figure 2 below shows a mobile check-in and data collection application which allows field service techs, surveyors, water utility workers, indeed any workers in the field to utilize mobile in their daily work routines.

MapQuest have an interesting offering. They were one of the the earliest companies to put maps on the Web. Initially focused on routing/directions, and traffic, they have broadened their offering to to include local search, marker and map overlays. In October they announce their Flash mobile API release. This is a big deal. More about Flash in a minute. But the MapQuest offering is in many ways made for mobile. Imagine being able to access routing and up to date traffic information while on the road. Look ahead and see accidents on your route and avoid them. Conduct local searches; find venues near you. Overlay KML and GeoRSS markers on the map to see points of interest (POI). Tonnes of possibilities.

Mobile Application Development MapQuest Flash API

Figure 2: MapQuest Enterprise Check-In and Data Collection App

Location Based Cross Platform Mobile Development

Objective C has become one of the most in demand programming languages. This relates to the popularity of Apple mobile devices. Most of the apps in the Apple App Store are written in Objective C. Successful mobile application development shops are filled with Objective C developers. But the game is changing. Android, and other mobile platforms are becoming increasingly more popular. Where does that leave your beautiful Objective C application? Only running on Apple products that’s where! You’ll need to rewrite it for Android, BlackBerry, Windows!

Now, thankfully there are cross platform solutions. Two of the most notable are Adobe AIR and PhoneGap. With AIR you can take your existing Flex or Flash apps and convert it to a mobile applications. Or build your AIR mobile app from scratch. But, most importantly, run the app on all mobile platforms. With PhoneGap take your Javascript application and do the same. That is one code base, which runs across mobile platforms. Simple.

Geo-Spatial Cross Platform Mobile Development

We have digressed slightly from our original topic. The future of mobile is very interesting, and filled with opportunities. Location will be at the core of many, if not most mobile applications. One day it might be pointless for companies such as us to target location based cross platform application development. But at the minute it seems to make tonnes of sense. Mobiles devices are computers with ever changing locations. Taking advantage of location to provide dynamic data – traffic ahead, what or who is near me, analysis by current location – has endless possibilities. Cross platform too. Who has the money or time to build multiple versions of the same application to run across each mobile platform? Build it once and deploy it to all would seem to be the future.

We might be wrong. But we are going to stay focused on cross platform location based mobile application solutions.

Mobiles & Field Data Collection

September 9th, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

Recently we’ve had considerable interest in mobile application development based around check-in and mobile data collection. Facility management companies, surveyors, multi-level marketing, insurance claims, pipeline companies, water utilities; all have field workers who would benefit from mobile applications. Not only checking in to work sites, but keeping a record of the work done; notes, pictures, video, even voice records. To help with our discussions with these potential clients, we put together a demo which pulls together much of this proposed functionality. We have included in this article both screen shots of the key functionality in the demo, plus a video of the actual application.

A key challenge of building the demo was finding a suitable mobile application tool set. Initially we discussed using a combination of SimpleGeo with a mapping API. But MapQuest came to the rescue with their new Flash mobile tool set. Not only do they provide routing and traffic data, but local search, and a range of other functionality all easily integrated with the map.

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Opening Screen

The opening screen in the application shows the base functionality. Each view or tool is listed as a selectable image. At any point a user can open the map to see their current location. This changes as the user moves. As we will discuss, the map is also utilised by other tools in the application.

SmartPhone MapQuest Data Collection Application

Figure 1 – SmartPhone MapQuest Data Collection Application

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Directions Screen

Let’s imagine a potential scenario. A field worker starts each day by opening a mobile application such as the one we are describing here. They want to start by seeing the days calls and an optimised route to these calls, mapped out for them. In Figure 2 we show a single source and destination mapped. MapQuest also allow for multiple source-destinations to be entered and displayed. At any point in the day the user can open this tool and see on the map the location of their next call.

SmartPhone MapQuest Directions View

Figure 2 – SmartPhone MapQuest Directions View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Check-In Screen

Next, the worker arrives at the first call and wishes to check-in. Figure 3 shows the check-in screen. There are two options shown. First a check-in by venue; so a field technician about to fix the air conditioning in a specific 7-11, for example. In the demo the user would type in the address, this could just as easily be a selection from a list of venues nearby. The second option is a check-in by current location or lat/long. Maybe a surveyor wishing to record, or check-in at a particular point. The check-in process would send name, id, location and time to the company server. A check-out would similarly record similar data centrally.

SmartPhone MapQuest Check-In View

Figure 3 – SmartPhone MapQuest Check-In View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Local Search Screen

At any point in the day a field worker might wish to do a local search. A search for venues, points of interest, maybe people within a certain distance of a location. The MapQuest api offers many possibilities for these types of searches. In Figure 4 and Figure 8, we show a simple venue search within a certain radius of either current location or from a specific address.

SmartPhone MapQuest Search View

Figure 4 – SmartPhone MapQuest Search View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – GeoCoder Screen

A geocoder is a useful tool. In Figure 5 we show how users can type in an address, and use MapQuest to add a marker to the map of that location.

SmartPhone MapQuest GeoCoder View

Figure 5 – SmartPhone MapQuest GeoCoder View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Data Screen

Data collection is often an important part of a field workers job. Surveyors, service technicians, pipeline inspectors are all recording data while in the field. Mobile applications are perfect both for recording and storing location based data – notes, pictures, voice records, video. They are also ideal for reviewing historic data. Let’s imagine a pipeline inspectors who on August 1, 2011 inspected a section of pipeline. He records what he sees using this mobile application. A field engineer, using the same application, views this data and makes appropriate repairs. A second inspection done on September 1, 2011 again using the mobile application, to view images and notes made a month before and by the field engineer, shows the work was completed successfully. This is a very real work flow.

Figure 6 shows the applications data screen. The search option makes a request to the company server for past data records. The search could be done by date, location or any number of other criteria.

SmartPhone MapQuest Data View

Figure 6 – SmartPhone MapQuest Data View 1

Figure 7 shows the summary data input view. So this is a summary of the data recorded by the field worker prior to storage. The camera on a mobile device can be used to attach photos or video to the work order. Mobile devices also have voice recorders. Notes can also be included in the data stored. The data itself can be attached to a check-out, or stored locally on the mobile device, maybe for later upload to a central company server.

SmartPhone MapQuest Data View

Figure 7 – SmartPhone MapQuest Data View 2

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application Video

See the application being demo’d in this video.


MapQuest have an excellent new set of mobile tools. The application discussed in this article is based on input from potential client. Those who have seen the application have been excited by the possibilities. When clients can see live demos of mobile solutions it often elicits new thinking and ideas. As mobile application developers the ideas which come from these discussions and demos are why we love what we do.

WebMapSolutions are a Utah mobile application development company. Specializing in locations based services (LBS), GIS and mapping applications. For more information contact

ArcGIS on IPad, Android and BlackBerry PlayBook

August 27th, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

We’ve discussed in other posts some of the the challenges of building mobile application. The biggest client requirement for all apps is that they run across multiple platform; so IPad/IPhone, Android, BlackBerry etc. Historically this required either a Web based solution written in HTML5/Javascript or multiple code bases for installed apps; Objective C for Apple, Java .. the list goes on.

New developer tools releases by Adobe have made building cross platform solutions considerably easier, and potentially cheaper. Now it is possible to build one application which can be installed and run on many platforms. Just to prove the point, we built an ArcGIS application and installed it on multiple devices. The following link shows videos of the same AIR app running on the IPad, Android and BlackBerry PlayBook. So one code base running on multiple platforms:

ArcGIS running on IPad, Android and BlackBerry PlayBook

These are exciting developments. The appeal of mobile devices is considerable. Now we can more easily build cross-platform mobile applications, we can start launching new location based tools, available to all mobile users. And built at a reasonable cost.

Video: ArcGIS 2.4 on an Android SmartPhone

August 24th, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

We continue to work with the new ESRI Flex 2.4 release in conjunction with Flash Builder 4.5.1 to build mobile apps. The attraction of Mobile Air is that one code base can be installed on multiple mobile platforms. That is potentially a big cost saving. To prove a point, we built an ArcGIS IPad app, first in Flex then ported it to mobile AIR. We have now taken that code base and installed it on an Android device, in this case the Samsung Infuse. Here is a video of the application:

Video of ArcGIS 2.4 running on an Android SmartPhone

The application is now available as a free install on any Android device in the Android Store see also this link:

If you do try it, we would be interested in your feedback. Contact

Video: ArcGIS 2.4 Running on IPad2

August 4th, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

The release of both Flash Builder 4.5.1 and the Flex 2.4 version of ArcGIS are major milestones for geospatial developers looking to build mobile apps. The video below shows an AIR app running on an IPad2 using ArcGIS 2.4:

Video of ArcGIS 2.4 Running on IPad2

ArcGIS on the IPhone

July 2nd, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

IPhone Application Development & Location Based Services
The IPhone and IPad remain intriguing platforms for spatial applications. Both popular and easy to use for consumers. They have remained a frustration for some mobile programmers. Notably those writing AIR and Flex applications for mobile. With the release of Flash Builder 4.5.1 life just became easier. Now a single application can be developed and installed on a range of different mobile platforms. That includes AIR apps running on Apples IOS.

IPhone Check-In App
The video in the link below shows an IPhone check-in app. Its written in Adobe AIR and is running on an IPhone 3. When the ‘Load Venues’ button is selected, the mobile app passes the GPS location of the phone to the SimpleGeo api. This then returns a list of venues within a given distance of the location. Which the application then lists.

ArcGIS on the IPhone
An interactive map has been added to the application. This uses the ArcGIS Flex API. The device location is added to the ArcGIS map.  This we will likely develop further and add some true mobile GIS functionality to compliment the geolocation portion of the application.

ArcGIS on the IPad
For mapping and GIS development the IPad remains the mobile platform with the most current potential. Its large screen size and user friendly design, makes it the most popular of the tablets. The BlackBerry Playbook has been a nice addition to the tablets market, with its less restrictive environment for software development. Discussed in the following article:

Now that it is possible to build sophisticated Adobe AIR apps on the IPad. The possibility of porting the ESRI Flex viewer to the IPad is exciting, particularly when combined with geolocation. This will be the focus of the next post.

Mobile Location Based Application Development

June 27th, 2011 by Matt Sheehan

The tech blogs are buzzing with excitement over mobile application development. Smartphones and mobile tablets offer new and interesting extensions of existing Web applications, plus the opportunity for new innovation. But both the hardware and software are ahead of business adoption. A phenomena noted historically with new technology leaps; the advent of the Web being a notable example. It took a number of years for the Web to move from an academic tool to widespread business use. Single location computing is about to be a thing of the past. Desktops and laptops sales will plummet. The future is about mobile computing.

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) has inhabited a niche in the world of computing. It has been long lamented as an important but not widely known technology. The launch of Google maps in 2006 shook this comfy niche. Bringing the widespread availability of free slippy maps with the ability to overlay markers, photos, videos. ESRI, the open source community and the other key players in the GIS market had to move quickly to catch up.

Mobile is about to have a much wider impact on the GIS industry. Real estate often proclaim its “Location location location”. Take heed GIS industry. We are entering a time of location based application development. GIS is a part; a tool, in a much wider game. Developers will be building location based applications, NOT GIS applications. GIS allows us to work with location data, but it is merely a tool. One of many.

Mobile ArcGIS Application?

So no more GIS mobile map application development or mobile ArcGIS Application Development. Maybe location based services powered by ArcGIS or location based service applications.

The GIS industry is already being left behind. The hype and money pouring into so called location based service (LBS) companies is phenomenal. Foursquare, Godwalla, Yelp, faceBook Places; the list goes on.

Mobile Location Based Service Application Development

As a company, we have become very focused on mobile. Tablets, with their larger screens, are wonderful. We’ve moved beyond just maps. Maps are great for visualizing spatial data. But location application development is more than just about maps. That pushes us back to the old GIS paradigm. That said, our initial work on the BlackBerry PlayBook uses ArcGIS and is a mapping centred app. We have been porting over some of the functionality from the ESRI Flex viewer. This first video is a demo of the base functionality:

We wanted to take the check-in model used by Foursquare and build a check-in widget. This we built as a stand alone app, then ported it to a widget. This second video shows this widget:

Mobile Business Apps

We’ve been traditionally an interactive Web map development company. Ten years of building clever mapping applications often driven by GIS. We are done talking GIS to clients. Our customers want software solutions. Our challenge is to demonstrate the importance of location as part, or at the core, of this solution. Mobile devices have made that conversation far easier. We need to show clients the future. Build real mobile location based applications which solve real problems.

So lets drop the whole GIS tag. We are in the location services industry.


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