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Posts Tagged ‘iphone’

What are my Mobile GIS Options?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015


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

Web technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. HTML5/Javascript is today the most popular client application technology. Helped by advances in browser technology, HTML5/Javascript now dominates the Web development space, sweeping away technologies like Flash/Flex and Silverlight. With a worldwide development community, 3D and offline are now part of the HTML5/Javascript landscape.

There are today many Javascript frameworks available for building mobile applications. Responsive design allows one mobile web app to automatically style itself based on the device being used.


Offline ArcGIS Editing on an iPhone Cannot be Done Right?

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013


Instead of asking:

Offline ArcGIS editing on an iPhone cannot be done right?

We could just as easily have asked if offline editing can be done period!

At WebMapSolutions we have been building an offline ArcGIS Online editing solution. Offline is complex; the process involves reading and writing data to/from the mobile device, then syncing with ArcGIS Online. But there is a huge need for such a mobile app, given such spotty Wi-Fi coverage in so many areas.

This initial version is targeted at iPad and Android tablets. We’ve made it affordable to both large and small organizations. The mobile app was launched in September to the Esri Marketplace, and has proven very popular. (more…)

5 Point Checklist for any GIS Web or Mobile Project

Monday, October 7th, 2013

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…)

Offline or Disconnected Mobile ArcGIS How To

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

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.

Local Storage

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.


Initial Thoughts on Apple’s Map Announcement

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

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.

Apple are targeting their platform we suspect with this launch; API’s or tools for developers will focus on Objective-C. Google have done the same with some of their cutting edge map solutions; with Java for native Android. We are pleased Apple see the business potential for location in the mobile sector. But, knowing their business practices, we hope this will not further deepen the split in the mobile world between iOS and Android. Now native apps have their place. But cross platform is what our clients are crying out for not multiple versions of the same app for each platform. ESRI, Google and Mapquest all provide super Javascript map API’s. We hope Apple do the same.

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.


Mobile ArcGIS Online-Offline Editing

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

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.


Offline Mobile GIS App Demos

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:


Mobile Geospatial Solutions – Transforming the Work Place

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

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.

Geo-Mobile Solutions

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

Custom Mobile ArcGIS – Web Maps &

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

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.


Flexible Mobile GIS Frameworks

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

We have spoken on this blog before about the release of our free mobile GIS app called GeoMobile for ArcGIS. The link below will take you to a more detailed discussion:

Our logic for the release was:

  • To demonstrate a custom ArcGIS mobile application
  • Build a cross platform mobile GIS app or one code base which runs on multiple platforms; iOS, Android, Blackberry
  • Model the app on the ESRI ArGIS Flex viewer; a flexible framework allows widgets to be easily dropped into the mobile app to extend functionality

So an extensible mobile ArcGIS framework for data visualization, search, query, update/editing, data collection etc. We never imagined it to be an out of the box mobile app; a generic $4.99 mobile app. It was a first step into the mobile GIS world for a number of our engineers. And ultimately resulted in us moving from a PC Web focused application development company to fully mobile developers. So we’ve put all our eggs in one basket; mobile. Taking a risk? We don’t think so. Our focus is location data, mobile enhances what we can now provide clients. One day, not far off, we think the location and GIS community will wonder how they ever got their jobs done stuck in an office. There is another side to this, and that is the potential location and mobile presents for all apps. As Ryan Kim at 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:

and compared them in action in this video:

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

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