In this post we will provide a quick overview of the 4 options currently available for developing a mobile GIS applications. The most appropriate approach should be determined by your project requirements.
Mobile Web GIS Apps
The possibilities presented by mobile technology and GIS is only just beginning to truly be realised. As a company we have been actively developing Android and Apple mobile GIS apps for over 2 years. We are ever more excited about how we can now apply GIS in the field. One new release from Esri which really caught our attention was the GeoEnrichment service. Below is an iPad demo of site selection analysis using ArcGIS Online, and this new service.
Its daunting starting any GIS Web or Mobile project. Where does one begin? In this post we provide a 5 point checklist for any GIS Web or mobile project.
1. Project Requirements
Do you have a clear idea of what the app should do? A detailed list of requirements is essential. If you are still in the ideas phase, flesh it out before you reach out to any external GIS development company. Be prepared to discuss in detail your requirements, and answer any questions posed by prospective development companies. Be clear to describe the purpose of the application. (more…)
As we have discussed before in this blog, mobile enabled GIS cloud technology is are changing how and who uses GIS. As we suggest in the title of this blog the future of GIS is here today. Let’s take a step back and look at the current landscape.
Today’s GIS Requirements and Mobile Enabled GIS Cloud Technology
There are a range of core elements required by our clients which are now provided by leveraging the new technological advances. These include:
1) Centralised data – away from a stove pipe approach to data.
2) Privacy – protecting data remains important
3) Data access from any device – PC, laptop, smartphone and tablet accessibility.
4) Simple targeted applications – no more complex workflows and ‘swiss army knife’ type apps.
So what solutions are now available which leverage cloud technology and target location based data?
It would seem that indoor GIS, along with 3D, has become all the rage in the GIS focused media. But read anything about indoor GIS and it sounds complex. True, it can be, but mapping the indoors is not rocket science. We will show a demo to illustrate; a simple example of the application of mobile indoor GIS. But first, lets start with the basics. There are many flavors of indoor GIS, these include:
– Indoor mapping: Accurate floorplan mapping and 3D visualization.
– Indoor positioning: Mapping points of interest and static content.
– Indoor locating: Locating mobile devices and other dynamic content.
– Indoor routing and analysis: Indoor routing and the management of business processes with GIS analysis tools.
– Indoor asset tracking: Tracking mobile assets for dispatching and other operational efficiency purposes.
Our immediate interest is indoor mapping. We were recently approached by an insurance industry organization. Their need was to map indoor assets – desks, workshop machinery, photo copiers etc. A tool to collect data was required with a need to store this data in a central, easy to access location. Updates to the data was to be a regular occurrence. Currently this work is done using paper maps and spreadsheets.
In early 2011 we began to turn our attention seriously from development for the PC Web to mobile. Blackberry released their excellent, but not well received, Playbook. As a first step into mobile GIS development we built and launched a mobile ArcGIS viewer to the Blackberry App World. Accompanying this release we wrote a paper for ESRI’s ArcUser publication on the development process, available at this link.
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.
Our first reaction to the recent announcement from Apple on their maps initiative is that it brings little new to the mapping landscape. As a mobile location-focused development company we see nothing which would help our customers beyond our current ESRI, Google and MapQuest solutions.
One thing we were excited to hear from Google was their announcement last week of an offline or disconnected mobile solution. Initially a Java for Android launch; we see this as a long overdue move. Many of our clients require offline mobile functionality. We have our own disconnected mobile solution, but it would have been nice to have had Apple announce their own offline mobile solution in their maps API. Looks like Google will remain ahead here and in many other map related areas.
No doubt the most frequent approach we get for the mobile ArcGIS apps we develop are offline or disconnected workflows. Clients want both to be able to visualize basemaps and their layers when out of wi-fi range, and offline editing; new feature additions, deletions and attribute edits.
ArcGIS 10.1 gives us tile packages (.tpk) so we can store tile pyramids locally on the device. Mansour has a nice example showing how to access basemap tiles using a tpk in offline mode on his blog.
The real challenge is offline editing. ESRI introduced Feature Server with Feature layers in ArcGIS 10, which work nicely in online mode. In April they released an Online-Offline Editing Sample using their iOS api. They include in their notes supporting the sample:
“For the sake of simplicity, the sample ….only allows you to add new features when the application is offline, not modify or delete existing features.”
Now there is the real challenge, what they have left out of the sample.