We have been asked many times about offline mobile capabilities. Situations where users are in areas without Wi-Fi access and still wish to access their mapping and GIS data, and geospatial tools using their Apple or Android mobiles. We have put together a video below which demonstrates a number of ways this can be done. To summarise the content. We need consider basemaps, layers and tools:
Basemaps – to access basemaps offline – street, satellite, topo maps – the basemap tiles for required zoom level need to be stored on the smartphone or tablet. The video shows two potential ways this can be done:
While online; auto zoom to a specific zoom level, and cache the tiles loaded during this zoom. Then referencing these when offline
Load a tpk or tile package which contains all the tiles required when offline.
Shapefiles – to view our layers, a shapefile needs be loaded onto the mobile device as a zip while online. In the video we discuss performance. The depackaging of the zip and rendering of the shapefile can be time consuming. We have optimised shapefile rendering by using fast shapefile depackagers and generating a bitmap of the shapefile.
The video below walks through solutions for offline basemaps and shapefiles:
This article was originally planned to be titled ‘Mobiles in The Work Place – The End of Pen & Paper?”. A little narrow we thought, let’s broaden the focus and discuss more generally the potential impact of mobile in the work place. Examples will be taken from the engineering sector.
Mobile computing is not new, the likes of Garmin and Trimble have been in the mobile marketplace for years. Their emphasis is geographic; so mobile maps and Geographic Information systems (GIS). ESRI’s ArcPad has been one of the more popular mobile software packages running on these mobile devices; Windows the most widely used mobile platform. The standard work flow had been wait for Windows XP on your Trimble abc to load, open ArcPad and off you go. A handful of companies once controlled the mobile market. Costs were as a result high; $500+ for software, and $1000’s for the hardware. But those days may soon be over. With the advent of the so called ‘mobile revolution’, mobile costs have fallen dramatically. The launch of the IPhone and IPad have heralded a new era of mobile availability; hardware, platforms and apps. Smartphones and tablets have become very popular. In many ways 2012 resembles 1996 with the Internet. Consumer led, and over-hyped, yet with the potential to change how we live and work.
The geospatial sector has always been a niche. Mention that you develop or work with GIS apps, and you will get a blank stare. Geospatial has always been on the edge of main stream computing. With the popularity of the Internet, geospatial software tools moved from the PC to the Web. Google gave us widely available Web maps in 2006, plus so called API’s for developers to build their own geo-focused apps. Traditional GIS vendors like ESRI moved their offerings forward. The release of ArcGIS was an important milestone. Many others jumped into the mix; Yahoo, Bing. We’ve moved from famine to a feast of potential geospatial solutions. The boundaries between the geo-solution providers has become confusing. These boundaries will increasingly blur, thanks to mobile.
So a new computing revolution seems to be upon us. Just as the Internet changed our world, mobile may have a similar impact. Mobiles increasing popularity moves geospatial from computing’s periphery, to front and center. Applications running on mobile devices which know where we are, and can discover and display what is around us are proving to be very popular. So where is mobile in early 2012; consumer led, with business’ slow to follow. The games category in each of the mobile app stores remains the most populated and popular. This will change. Widespread business adoption will transform the mobile landscape we know today.
As a geo-focused mobile application development company, we spend most of our time applying mobile technology in the work place. From this work, a number of common themes have surfaced; simplifying work flows, accurate and efficient data collection, on site search and discovery, organization and collaboration. It is worth spending time discussing each of these areas.
Mobile GIS – Simplifying Work flows
As we have said, there are some excellent mobile software packages available. They each provide mobile workers a plethora of tools to get their jobs done. Too many tools, some say. How so? One client said:
“We train our staff to use specific functionality in ArcPad. It takes a while to learn. Losing staff, and having to train new hires is both frustrating and expensive. If only we had a simpler mobile app which provided a work flow designed for our need”
Let’s expand on this and look at an example in the pipeline industry. When pipes are buried, an area or easement, is set aside a fixed distance on each side of the pipe. The easement has to be inspected/surveyed at set time intervals for encroachment. Building and vegetation growth are most common. When undertaking this type of work pipeline companies have been faced with a number of choices:
1) Customize existing mobile software solutions.
2) Adapt new software packages.
One company we spoke to use Trimble mobile devices with a highly customized version of CartoPack for their field work. They needed easement inspection functionality and looked at extending further CartoPack, but were put off by the added complexity and considerable cost. After much discussion they decided to adapt ArcPad to provide the required functionality. The final solution worked, but the process of getting there proved challenging. Their reflections were:
1) Having a single tool which provided just the required functionality would have been the preferred solution
2) ArcPad worked but the work flow is complex. The software has too many menus and input areas. Staff need to be trained to navigate this complexity.
3) The process is expensive. The Trimble GeoXH costs around $6000, plus customizing ArcPad took longer and cost more than anticipated. There were many unexpected roadblocks extending the software.
4) Accuracy is an important part of this process. Sub meter readings are needed. Devices like the Trimble GeoXH provide this level of accuracy. Ideally we would like to use cheaper hardware which provides high level of accuracy, with a custom, functionally focused mobile app.
An additional part the companies easement inspection process is a second inspection. This serves to both verify the first inspection and add additional data; including new attributes and photos. The second inspection currently uses different software tools and is not integrated with the central data store from the first inspection. Time has to be spent combining the two data sets. They mentioned if they could use a single mobile app for the first and second inspections and automatically update a centralized data source, they would save much time and cost.
Another example of complex work flows is provided by Gateway Mapping in Utah, who offer excellent geo-software used by engineering companies. But the difficulties using their software, sometimes requiring 18 fields to be populated before tasks can be completed, is both frustrating and time consuming for users.
The new mobile revolution gives us the ability to build light-weight custom mobile apps which provide the required work flows without overhead. Easy to learn and easy to use. The days of few companies controlling the mobile space will soon be over.
Tablet & SmartPhone GIS – Collaboration & Sharing
The word collaboration in a computing sense often brings video-conferencing to mind. That is certainly something easily done with mobile devices. But there are many ways we can share information in real time, or near real time. One question often repeats itself from clients: how do we share field data with office workers? Let’s take the approach mentioned in the previous section, digital data collection, and extend this discussion. Map annotation tools are common on the geoweb. The ESRI Flex viewer for ArcGIS includes a very nice widget which allows users to add shapes, lines and text to a map. The widget also allows users to store this data as a text file, and open/render these text files. Thus one users annotation can be shared with others. Extend this to mobiles. An engineer is coordinating building work with owners and contractors. She is on site using an Android Galaxy tablet mobile annotation app; the equivalent of the tool in the Flex viewer for ArcGIS. Her annotations file is being shared with her office based boss in near real time. This form of sharing and collaboration is now quite possible. We have been developing these types of applications for clients. Combine this type of data sharing with text and video conferencing software and you have some very powerful decision making solutions.
Mobile Replacing Pen & Paper – Data Collection
Sounds a little dry and boring ‘data collection’. But let’s put things in context. Whenever we are out of the office working, how do we record work related information? Most commonly with pen and paper. Maybe throw in a paper map to mark the spot; ‘broken pipe here’. If we are really sophisticated we might resort to an automated phone system, along with a bewildering selection of menus; ‘for broken pipe select 2′. For visual records we carry a digital camera; ”photo 1 is broken pipe 1 marked on map, with notes on said pipe somewhere in my notepad’. You get the idea. Laptops are sometimes used in an effort to simplify this work flow. Not the most convenient solution, but an improvement on pen and paper.
Construction management is important in many engineering projects. Documenting progress, gathering photo records, collecting data on project features and existing features. Much of this data collection is being done in the field. Returning to the pipeline business. When a pipe is being laid, ongoing information is being gathered on site. Again information related directly to the pipes; the position of valves and joins, and information on the surrounding area. Currently, this data is stored in both a digital and non digital ways. Let’s imagine an improved system. All field engineers have IPads. They have a pipes layer overlaid on a satellite base map, this is a visualization of the pipeline being laid. The attributes of each 40ft section of pipe laid is recorded using an IPad app, and sent dynamically back to a central GIS. Photos, taken with the IPad and stamped with time and lat/long, and other records are attached to this attribute data. Additional notes are also taken, maybe where the pipeline crosses utilities. Imagine the mobile app can not only record and update data relating to the the pipe layer directly, but also related information. New mobile tools to collect this data, central storage and access to all this data, will transform the working life of civil engineers.
Mobile Geospatial Intelligence – Search & Discovery
Last week a water pipe broke in the street of the parents of a friend. The resulting geyser drew a crowd. City engineers were soon on the scene. It was 5:30pm. Tracing and shutting all valves feeding the broken pipe was the engineers challenge. Out came a 2″ thick book which was thumbed through by the chief engineer. Orders and directions were barked, between more thumbing. By 6:30pm all valves had been closed saving, only just, two basements from flooding.
Let’s imagine a different scenario. The chief engineer on arrival pulls out his IPad, instead of his thick book. He opens a geospatial mobile app, adding water pipe and related layers to a map viewer. He then runs a query based on current location, close to the broken pipe, against these layers. A GIS processes the query and returns the locations of all valves required to be shut. These are then displayed on the map, and shared with the crew. Imagine the improvement in time and efficiency following this second scenario. We now have this technology.
Mobile GIS – Organization & Coordination
We’ve been quite impressed with CityWorks; a GIS-centric asset management system. Work tickets are at the heart of their system. So ticket generation (a bulb needs replacing at xy street), ticket distribution to field crews (fix bulb at xy street), feedback/updates (light fixture broken needs fixing before bulb replacement can take place), associated information (picture/notes on light fixture), generation of new or related work orders (light fixture needs fixing at xy street).
CityWorks is a server solution, one which sits on top of ArcGIS. It is now possible to write custom mobile apps, running on the newer mobile platforms, which connect to CityWorks. As an example, the video below shows Freeance Mobile for CityWorks:
It is worth noting that CityWorks is not a cheap solution. But building mobile applications which connect to CityWorks and similar systems is now both easy and inexpensive. These types of systems should make the coordination and organization of field crews far easier.
In summary, we are in the midst of a mobile revolution; currently consumer led, but soon to be transformed by business adoption. Field workers will use this new digital technology to help gather data, discover and visualize what is around them, share and collaborate in real time work related tasks and information. The mobile market place is being flooded with cheaper hardware. Mobile apps are now appearing which are task specific, and provide simplified work flows.
It truly is the end of pen and paper.
We would be interested to hear your thoughts on mobile in the work place. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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:
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?
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:
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:
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
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:
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”
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:
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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
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:
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.
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
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
e) Facility management
f) Outdoor recreation
g) Medicine – self diagnosis and referral
h) Car dealerships
i) Police & Parking meters officer IT providers
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.
Politics revolves around organization. The increasing popularity of mobiles; IPhones, IPads and Android devices will revolutionize political organization and campaigning. It is now possible to provide field workers with mobile applications which will allow better organization and coordination of campaigns. Further, these applications will let users dynamically collect and upload data from the field. Campaigns and unit committees will be able to access this centralized data in real time. Improving both the speed and accuracy of decision making. Data collection and access is one thing, visualizing this data is quite another. The ability to search, query and tabulate this data is huge. But maps provide a very intuitive way to view this type of data. We will discuss in this article the potential uses of mobile applications for political campaigning. And how maps and mobile GIS can be used to better visualize campaign data.
Mobile Apps & Voter Data Management
Much in the world of political campaigning is centered around canvassing, phone banks and walk lists. Walk lists are for campaign field workers, essentially their voter contact list. Mobile applications running on smartphones such as IPhones and Droids are perfect for providing canvassers their walk list. Using application tools provided by the likes of MapQuest, these lists can be presented as markers on a map with optimized, or most efficient, routes. In addition, by using the inbuilt GPS on most smartphones, users can know their current location and collect data at that location. So a voters response can be captured on a smartphone dynamically, tied to that location and uploaded to a centralized database.
Historically, spreadsheets have been the main stay of political campaign organizing. Those days will soon be gone. Data centrally stored, updated from the field dynamically using mobile devices and from campaign headquarters will revolutionize politics. New software applications will become available for use on traditional PC’s and mobile devices which will tap into this data and allow questions to be answered or viewed quickly; the concentrations of likely voters or supporters for more efficient targeting, identifying locations for events, planning and moving collateral, generating and viewing walk-lists, and plotting sign locations. Interactive maps will prove important in visualizing much of this data. Field Directors will be able to almost instantly see the progress of sign placement operations, volunteer recruitment, and literature distribution. They will also be able to see the location of field workers while they are interacting with voters and view responses in real time. Unit and district chairs could use these systems for mass e-mails, the content being related to the voters district or location. Task lists could be created and posted for party or campaign employees, allowing them to record their progress. These updates would be instantly accessible to managers anywhere.
These types of system will dramatically improve efficiency, and reduce or remove redundant processes. They will provide a key edge over opponents. Enabling a dramatic enlargement of membership.
To summarize some of the areas impacted by these new systems which utilize mobile applications:
Planning – voting lists, election boundaries, location (possible and actual) and relocation of collateral (signs, literature)
Coordination – unit rosters, party and campaign offices, events
Canvassing – walk list, data collection
Mobile GIS Maps & Politics
Mobile devices, as we have said, will be increasingly key to political campaigns. Viewing maps, boundaries, and voter locations on a smartphone or mobile tablets will be crucial to field workers. As will recording data while in the field. We have already mentioned a few, but we can imagine a range of different questions we want answered and displayed on a map:
Show me an optimized route of my walk list
Display registered voter data on a map by definable region
Search and display by a set of criteria – Show all 2008 Primary Voters
Search, filter and display – Show 2008 Primary Voters who voted in the last 3 elections or show only hard democrats
Spatial query – Selecting a group of voters, by drawing a square on the map, will provide a voter summary. Maybe the number of voters selected, average distance between voters, total number of hard Republicans in this group, and number of perfect voters.
There are a range of options and tools we can use for maps in politics. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) offer tools which will help manage, organize, search, query and display campaign data. MapQuest offer both PC focused and mobile optimized tools ideal for political campaigns.
The Use of GIS in Politics
We have discussed the querying and display of campaign data. Often, at least in a GIS, this would involve either shapefiles or ArcGIS endpoints (ArcGIS from ESRI is the most popular GIS spatial server). These both are spatial data sources which contain features (voters and their point location), and attributes (a voters party allegiance for example). Rendering or displaying a shapefile or ArcGIS endpoint adds a layer to the map. Thus we can add points to the map which represent voters. Click on a point and the attributes of that voter are displayed. Querying is also possible against these spatial data sources; show me all hard Republican voters in a certain zip code.
We can extend this to editing and updating. Thus it is quite possible to update our spatial data sources using a mobile device. Maybe a voter has switched allegiances and is no longer a democrat; update that voters attributes on your smartphone which updates the central data store. Maybe a new area of homes has been built and voters here need adding to the data store. Again this can all be done by field workers using their mobile devices.
ESRI are the largest provider of GIS software in the world. Their flagship ArcGIS product offers a complete GIS solution, both for desktop and networked GIS. Moblie ArcGIS has become increasingly important. WebMapSolutions have been building a sample viewer which demonstrates some of the mobile functionality of ArcGIS. The video below shows the mobile GIS app running on an IPad:
MapQuest are well known for routing and traffic maps, but they offer a plethora of other services. We are in the process of building a new mobile application which demonstrates some of the capabilities of mobile MapQuest. The functionality will include:
Optimized Walk List Route
Sign placement and traffic flow
Data entry using device GPS
Query – map markers showing voters filtered by specific criteria
A video of this application will be posted here in due course.
Online & Offline Mobile GIS Maps & Politics
Less common in urban areas, but mobile devices may sometimes lack Wi-Fi connectivity. This means data cannot be transferred to and from the device. Maybe downloaded map data showing the location of the next voter on the walk list, or voter interview data uploaded to the central server. It is now possible to store data directly on the device. So complete walk lists routes can be downloaded while still online, and used with or without Wi-Fi connectivity. Similarly a light weight database on the mobile device can be used to store data recorded at a location, for later upload when back in Wi-Fi range. The video below shows online and offline map usage on an Android smartphone. The base map tiles are stored on the device, as is a shapefile of Utah counties. The latter could just as easily be voter points or election boundaries.
Existing Political Software Systems and The New Mobile Paradigm
Existing, lets call them legacy, political software systems are slow and clunky. Mapping capabilities are limited. As already mentioned, decisions are still often made with the help of spreadsheets. Field workers rely on printed sheets, phones and notepads for organization and data gathering. In short, current software applications used for political campaigns are inadequate.
Existing systems can be dramatically improved. Mobile applications will be a particularly key component. Centralizing data and extending, maybe rewriting, existing software applications to allow easier management, querying and visualization of this data will be crucial. Mobile applications in politics will provide both access to the data while in the field (no more pens, papers and printed maps), and the ability to edit and add new data. Mobiles provide up to date information dynamically; walk lists, routing, tracking field workers. They also allow much of what was done in the office, to now be done done in the field. So querying by voter attributes using a fixed distance from your current location. And designing your canvassing around these dynamic queries. Applications written for PC’s will provide advanced functionality and management of both the data and ultimately the campaign.
Maps will be ever more important for displaying much of the data both in the office and in the field using mobiles.
Mobile Politics Application Development
So how would you build such a system? There are a number of proprietary and open source content management and constituent relationship management solutions. Joomla and CivicCRM are two excellent open source options. These can serve as the central system, PC based work can utilize the modules available in these types of frameworks. The key mobile and mapping portions of this picture will need custom development. These would be integrated into the central system. So whether it be leveraging the power of MapQuest or a full GIS, these could be integrated into the PC based system, and custom built for mobile.
As a mobile GIS application development company we specialize in these types of integrations. Our focus is Web and mobile application development, with a particular emphasis on location based services (LBS), mobile GIS and maps. Mobile will be very important to the upcoming election cycle. Political campaigns can now leverage mobile to make faster better decisions. We can help build or integrate both mobile and maps into any political campaign.