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 Mobile GIS & LBS

Posts Tagged ‘iphone’

Hot Topics in Mobile GIS

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012


We recently looked back over client and potential client feedback in 2011. There were definitely some re-occurring themes. Here we summarise some of these conversations:

1) Mining

We’d like to display in a mobile map app dynamic sensor data (click on map point and its shows current data)

2) Cultural Resource Management

“Even though GPS technology has been readily adopted in the profession, it is still mostly wedded to a system of paper forms and (often) disconnected implementations of ArcGIS based map creation and non-geo-referenced photos. We’d like a mobile ArcGIS app to replace these systems.”

This reminds us of many other areas where paper and pen remain the field recording equipment of choice. Mobile apps allow users to record data using tablet based forms, and basic geo-referencing. Combine this with GIS and a wide array of tools become available. Stephens cites some examples:

“If one is recording an historic building or archaeological sites, one can take a decent resolution image, complete the form electronically, and consider view shed/buffering without juggling several devices and a handful of forms as well. I can also see value when doing a field inventory for something like a wireless tower where viewsheds and buffers are important. It would also be very useful for situations where one is doing resource monitoring (making sure a client doesn’t impact something).”

3) Natural Resources Management

“We have a diverse natural resources management program going on here, and I can see this used for several of our field activities. Particularly of interest, though, is using this for collecting survey data. We are currently doing things horribly old-fashioned: collecting GPS points and logging attribute data on paper forms in the field, then coming back to the office to download points and enter into a database.”

“We collect a few different types of data during surveys: any threatened or endangered species, all species present for certain transects, and incipient and invasive species. Spatial datasets are then updated as needed. It requires a lot of attention just to make sure data gets organized properly. For years, we’ve talked about getting a nice set of Juniper systems with ArcPad, but it’s a pretty big investment. The proliferation of mobile devices, and new mobile GIS apps, seem like a more cost-effective means of achieving similar functionality. Could you build a mobile GIS solution using the new mobile platforms?”

4) Civil Engineering

“We simply want an easy way to update our GIS from the field. To overlay pipeline and manhole layers for example on a basemap, and view on an IPad, would be a big benefit to our field crews. Mobile ArcGIS or even an open source solution maybe using Geoserver would be ideal. More than that, if we were able then to update a GIS where we see inaccuracies in both the path of the pipeline and attributes of a manhole, that would be simply huge. We would want a sanity check. Whereby any updates were processes first by our GIS administrator before they were committed to the GIS”

5) Genealogy

We want to build a genealogical tool, which allows people to make notes, take photos etc in the field of relative gravestones. Store this data, map it, and share it. Routing would be a nice addition. We wondered whether the new mobile MapQuest releases might provide us a potential solution.

6) Outdoor Recreation Mobile App

We want to build a mobile app where users can zoom to an area of interest and see local data eg lake depth, camping facilities etc. We’d like users to be able to make notes and store them for later reference. eg. on 27th Dec I caught a trout at this location at this depth etc.

7) Invisible Car Dealer

When are new/used car searching. We want a mobile app which when turned on loads the dealerships within a certain distance. Select a dealership, allows users to browse cars on the lot. Routing to and between dealerships would be a nice addition

8) Political Campaigning

Current systems used by both political parties are archaic. Canvassing is critical in campaigning .. see blog article from this conversation:

http://www.webmapsolutions.com/android-ipad-political-campaigns

9) Fibre Optics

We use BlackBerry Playbook. We would love to have the ability to overlay our fibre lines as layers on a mobile map. Both online and offline.

10) Forest Management

A big challenge for us is viewing data in an offline mode. Tree cover may reduce GPS accuracy. Viewing and recording data while in the field will make our field workers life so much easier.

11) Agriculture Pest Control

We would love to see areas marked on a mobile map or mobile ArcGIS, which show the extent of an area last treated with a particular (pest control) chemical. So simply layer overlay. Updating this data when a new treatment is done would be the next need.

In terms of volume of requests, 2011 saw inquiries rise dramatically. The approaches came from many different sectors. Field data visualization and recording were overwhelmingly the most common themes. Many clients were looking at mobile GIS for the first time, and in many cases were looking to build proof of concept type mobile apps. Mobile ArcGIS was the most popular technology request, but we also received many approaches about potentially cheaper open source mobile GIS solutions.

As 2012 begins we see the interest in mobile ArcGIS and mobile GIS in general continuing to grow.

Mobile Location Apps Review

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012


Monetizing geographic information became all the rage in 2011. Once geographic information meant maps. Clever systems were developed – geographic information systems or GIS – to store and allow analysis and visualization of geographic data. Mobile – smartphones and portable tablets – have broadened both the interest and potential of location for making money. The geo tag has been prep-ended to an increasing number of words; geo-marketing, geo-advertising, geo-social. A slew of new, so called, location based service (LBS) companies have appeared; Foursquare, Yelp.

This article looks at mobile location apps, and discusses some opportunities for companies to build their own custom location apps.

Mobile Location Apps – Check-In

Check-in is hot at the minute. Pull out your smartphone, fire up your foursquare app and check-in as you enter your favourite store. Presto you might become mayor or get a discount on a purchase. Gathering user data in this way, has the business community excited. Knowing a users current location, allows for interaction at the point of purchase. Maybe pushing coupons or suggestions for purchases.

But the check-in can be used far more broadly than for mobile consumer marketing. Any mobile user or worker can use check-in apps. These types of mobile apps will become crucial in keeping track of mobile workers. They will also allow mobile workers to dynamically report work related information; work completed, parts required, voice records or images of work related information. A check-in application will not only find current location and what is nearby, but allow immediate input of data.

Mobile Location Apps – B to C Marketing

Sitting under the marketing umbrella is now geo-marketing or location-based marketing. This is a part of the rapidly expanding world of mobile consumer marketing. Services such as Foursquare encourage consumer loyalty, driven by discounts and status. Stores can build campaigns using Foursquare. Groupon offer digital coupons. They are partnering with LBS focused companies like Foursquare, as part of the discount offering. Consumer oriented companies can build campaigns using these various location based services (LBS).

Many other ideas revolve around opt-in models with auto-checkin – as against manual check-in – and text message push through SMS and MMS. Proximity marketing is geo targeted advertising using push technology.

Location based service and geolocation services are rapidly evolving. Many companies are entering the fray. As we will discuss, many of the LBS companies have opened their API’s. Meaning developers can now interact with core data. This thus allows the development of custom location based solutions. Now it is possible to pass a location to Foursquare or SimpleGeo and get back venues within a certain distance of this location. Near a point one can now conduct a venue search to find and display trending locations, find and display friends’ tips, and show how many venues match a particular criteria the user has been to.

As a company, we have been increasingly tapping into these rich API’s to build custom location based applications.

Mobile Location Apps – Geo-Social Marketing (Who or What is near Me)

Facebook and Twitter were pioneers of social networking, with mobile they have started extending their reach to include geo-social marketing. Geo-social networking allows users to interact relative to their current locations. Thus you can search for users in your network who are nearby, or by venue. For business this means potential group messaging and ad targeting. Users can share likes, maybe meet at a specified location. At every step of their interaction there is the potential for mobile marketing and advertising.

Twitter now allow geo-tagged tweets. They have also opened their API for developers. Twitter is a public broadcasting system. A public message is much more relevant when you know who, what, when, AND where. There are numerous websites and applications that search specific cities to find local tweets. A tweet that is geo-tagged to that location will appear in that search. In this way, tweets can be broadcast-ed to a small region. Beyond search tweets can be used to maybe track the status and location of a package. Or perhaps offer store information or discounts.

Geo-social networking offers the opportunity to tie who is near me with what is near me. Influencing group behaviour is a new addition to the marketers arsenal.

Mobile Location Apps – B to B Marketing

Much of the current focus has been on B2C location marketing. But B2B location marketing offers huge potential opportunities. Both for internal organisation and community, and building external business relations. We’ve discussed some of the benefits of the check-in for mobile workers. Encouraging check-in at promotional events and tradeshows has the potential to help customer interaction and follow up. Internal communication can be improved by social and geo-social networking tools. Helping management and employees achieve stronger internal relations, and improve the internal flow of information. Tweets can be used quick snapshots of company information. Sales teams can help track performance and evolving sales cycles in real-time.

Business travellers will be key users of mobile location services. Businesses can use various tactics to engage these users. Hotel chains have started welcoming visitors to the city where they will be staying. This has helped with brand reinforcement.

Mobile GIS

Maps and geospatial analysis, will always be an important part of the location mix. The ability to visualize the location of a friend, a store, map out a route. Analysis sits in the geographic information systems (GIS) or geospatial services world. As a company we have historically been focused in this area. GIS remains separated from the new location based services. At some point there will be integration. Where the power of GIS is brought to bear on location based data. What does this mean? At some point the huge amounts of data being gathered by LBS companies will be stored in spatially aware systems like a GIS. Allowing both the analysis and visualisation, via maps and charts, of this data. GIS will help plan and organise location based marketing campaigns. It will help analyse and visualize the campaign both during and after the event. WebMapSolutions are currently actively working with mobile GIS and applying these tools to location based services.

Mobile Location Apps in 2012

Mobile location apps will receive increasing publicity in 2012. Opportunities abound to provide innovative mobile solutions to both consumers and enterprises.

Location-as-a-service and SoLoMo are becoming popular services. Ryan Kim of GIGAOM stated in 2011:

“We’re still a ways off from our prediction that every mobile app will have location integration. But we’re seeing that potential reality take shape more and more”

Kim talks at length about location-as-a-service whereby providers create the tools necessary for developers to weave location into their apps. We’ve already mentioned Foursquare and SimpleGeo. But Location Labs (geofencing), Xtify (smart notifications), Skyhook (hybrid Wi-Fi, GPS and cell-tower technology), Loc-Aid (location-based service aggregator) can be added to the list.

Elsewhere there is talk that 2012 is going to be The Year of SoLoMo (Social, local, and mobile). As Margaret Mastrogiacomo of HeBS Digital puts it:

“Social speaks to what we do as human beings and how we share our travel experiences, mobile speaks to our “always on-the-go” nature, and local speaks to the need for information from our immediate environment.”

“Instead of researching attractions during a hotel stay, mobile applications will detect a traveller’s location, what they are looking for, provide directions, push specials based on geo location, and even allow guests to share their experiences in real time. SoLoMo will ultimately provide more customer service solutions to enhance the travel experience”

We see two key opportunities in 2012 with regards mobile location apps. The first is the maturing of the business to consumer market. Beginning to link consumer profiles to location, time of day for example. As Margaret Mastrogiacomo says:

“Imagine serving a mobile ad or coupon promoting your onsite restaurant’s happy hour from 6-8 to a business traveller located within 5 miles of your hotel with a particular interest in dining and entertainment”

The second is the growth of business to business mobile location apps. Enterprises remain cautious over the adoption of mobile. The various app stores have yet to properly cater to the enterprise. Mobile apps which include location will become increasingly more important to the enterprise. Field workers will be the first to benefit from enterprise mobile adoption. But mobile location apps will, in 2012, start to become essential to the organisation and operation of many more businesses.

We would be interested in your feedback. Are you building mobile location apps? Is your company planning to have developed a mobile location app in 2012? Contact us

A Review of Mobile GIS Apps

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011


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

Review of Mobile GIS Apps

Mobile GIS App Thoughts

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

A Review of the Mobile Market in 2011

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Overall Mobile Trends in 2011

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

To summarise our overall thoughts:

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

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

Mobile GIS, LBS & Map Development Tools in 2011

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

Mobile Software Trends in 2011

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

Mobile App Development in 2011 – Many Challenges

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

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

How are the Public and Private sectors using Mobiles?

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

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

Reflections on WebMapSolutions 2011 Mobile Business Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile GIS in Politics for 2012

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011


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:

Mobile ArcGIS running on an IPad

MapQuest and Politics

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:

  • Walk List
  • 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.

Mobile GIS Online and Offline

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.

Mobile GIS App Planning Guide

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Introduction

This article is targeted at individuals or companies looking to build a new mobile or Web application. It is a guide to help you move from a great idea to a great application. Oh, and it is short.

Let’s begin by imagining a house. Your dream house. The home you’ve always wanted to build. At the moment the layout, design, color etc. are in your head. New ideas are continually being added to this mental picture you are forming. You’d like to make this dream reality. But how? You look for professional help; maybe a builder, an architect.

Imagine you call this professional. You start the conversation as follows:

“Hello. My name is Joe. I want to build my dream house. It will need to have 4 bedrooms and a kitchen. How much will that cost to build?”

How do you imagine the builder, or architect will respond?

This is a silly example, which has little relation to software development, I hear you saying. Right? Wrong!

Software development is just like house building. You would be surprised how often we field calls similar to the above.

“We would like an application which does X. How much will that cost to build?”

If you are serious about making a dream reality. You need to start with something tangible. Mental pictures are only useful to you. Once you start involving others you need to transfer your thoughts.

Don’t get us wrong; cost at some point will be an important consideration. Cost will determine what is and isn’t possible. Cost may force changes to some of your ideas. Cost will determine who you choose to do the work. But starting with cost without providing a well thought out, and clearly laid out picture of your thoughts. Will leave your dream just that, a dream!

Mobile Application Development Brainstorming

Let’s start with brainstorming. This is the process of transferring ideas to paper; often many crumpled pieces of paper. Sure there are tools out there to create mind maps. We are old fashioned. Put everybody in a room, grab some paper or a white board and start scribbling. It’s amazing what you can come up with. Figure 1 below are the initial roughs for a mobile app we recently worked on. It shows roughs for an IPad and IPhone version of the same app.

Mobile Application Development Roughs

Figure 1: Mobile Application Roughs

These scribbles can be as detailed as you would like. But they are a huge step forward. You’ve transferred thoughts to something tangible. A format others can understand.

Mobile Application Flow

Ok, so we have our initial picture(s) of what the application will be. Let’s formalize things a little. Provide an idea of application flow. Figure 1 includes some simple flow; if I click button X it takes the user to screen 2 which shows content A. Get it?

Mobile Application Development Professionals

So now is it time to turn to a professional? Definitely maybe. If you are comfortable that you have all the application pieces in place, in a format which is understandable to a stranger. Definitely. Remember, pictures work better than words. Always. The words simply support the pictures.

Planning and design are two crucial parts of the application development process. But these are only relevant once you have decided on who will help architect and build the application.

You will find that the professionals you choose to show your application roughs will have questions. Good roughs will help others understand what you are trying to do.

Mobile Application Development Estimates

With a good understanding of what you are trying to build. A software development company can start thinking about some of the technical challenges. This then leads to time estimates for developing the application. Ultimately to the magic number. Estimated cost.

Here is a dirty secret. Developers often take their initial time estimate based on the roughs we have described above. Double it. Then add 10%. What ….because they are greedy?

Estimation is a very inexact science. A developer will always try to overestimate rather than underestimate. Think about it. What would you prefer, a developer saying:

“Great news. We finished the work for less than you expected to pay.”

or

“The work will take longer than expected. That will cost you more money.”

Mobile Application Development – Making Changes

So you find the perfect company to do the work, at the right price. You start moving forward. Then change what you want. Maybe you forgot something, or, have new ideas. Does that change the cost? Quite possibly. By how much? Ask the question. It is surprising how often people make changes to applications, without considering cost implications.

Mobile Application Development & Successful Outcomes

The best applications in the mobile and Web markets are those which start with a great idea. An idea which is transferred to an understandable format and shared. Discussed. Changed. A great development company found to do the work. At the right price. Planning, design, feedback, changes occur iteratively. Your dream becomes reality.

The End (or just the beginning)

WebMapSolutions are mobile application developers. The company specialises in building locations based services (LBS), GIS and mapping applications. If you are looking to build a mobile solution, or just need a better understanding of the mobile sector, contact: rory@webmapsolutions.com

Offline Mobile GIS

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011


You might be wondering how you access GIS layers when your mobile has no Wi-FI access. Well wait no more, the solution is at hand. The demo below shows ArcGIS being used offline. Before you open source folk get upset, this solution could also be applied to a Geoserver/Openlayers/OpenScales solution. The app shows storage of base map tiles and a shapefile on the actual mobile device. In offline mode, we show loading this data. Very cool. Thanks a million to Mansour at ESRI for helping us move this forward. See the application demo in the link below:

Offline Mobile ArcGIS Demo Video

This functionality may at some point be added to our GeoMobile for ArcGIS mobile app. You can get the current free version of the app here.

Q&A – Mobile App Development Planning

Friday, October 14th, 2011


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 rory@webmapsolutions.com

ArcGIS on IPad, Android and BlackBerry PlayBook

Saturday, August 27th, 2011


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.

ArcGIS on the IPhone

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

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.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/EJnihL1lm2E

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:

http://www.webmapsolutions.com/playbook-ipad-mobile-application-development

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.
 

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