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 Mobile GIS & LBS

Posts Tagged ‘location based services’

Thoughts on Current State of Mobile Market

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Apple has been praised for its innovation in the mobile space. Criticism of the company has centered around their fixation on absolute control. Their spat with Adobe in 2011 over the Flash Player plugin, effectively forced Adobe to change direction away from Flash and Flex. This was an early sign that Apple would not be playing nice. Legal pressure forced them to allow cross platform apps, like those generated in Mobile Flex, to be made available in their Apple store. But it was not a decision made to placate Adobe. Now we see attacks on rival hardware companies, like the recent Samsung lawsuit:

Mobile Platform Specific Apps

Other interesting developments include; the dropping of Google Maps in favour of Apple Maps, and the suggestion that their Maps app for iOS will include Yelp check-in feature that ties in with review site Yelp, further integrating social networking and location-based services into iOS 6.


GIS = Providing Location Based Solutions

Friday, April 6th, 2012

It seems the blog post we wrote recently entitled “Should we retire the term GIS?” resonated with the geo-community. We thought is worth a follow up post.

First the responses. Below are a few on the comments we received:

“No. I saw this a few months ago (maybe from the same group; maybe not). This came from a location based services firm – so that’s why they want to change it. GIS is still the main term to use, for what I do at least; and folks can still use lots of sub terms if they want.”

“I’ve also heard geospatial technologies (geospatial being duplicative). But GIS includes the concept of analysis, where location does not. Location Based Solutions are applications, while GIS is analysis – how about “Geographic and Location Based Solutions?”)”

“True, I completely agree. GIS is not only a niche term, it is a discipline which occupies the time of people aged 55+ dealing with sub millimeter accuracy, INSPIRE (I prefer to call it EXPIRE), land management and maybe utilities. It has nothing to do with crowd sourcing (OSM), modern technology (mobile apps, SOA, Cloud) or “new” markets (Business GIS, LBS etc.). GIS people are still looking for that “killer app”, but cannot find it. Call it location services, Spatial Business Intelligence or whatever: the people in the industry need to change. We do still need the “55+ sub millimeter” people. Mainly for accuracy and standards.”

“I agree with most of what you have to say except I disagree that the term GIS should be retired. What I’d like to see is the use of specific terms where appropriate (like LBS as you’ve suggested) instead of using GIS as a catch-all for all things spatial. Just my two cents.”

Very interesting. Actually (counter to the first comment above) we have historically been an ESRI focused company. We wrote our first Web based ESRI map viewer (for the US Forest Service) back in 1997. Long, long before the term location based services (LBS) had been coined. Maybe this is at the crux of the discussion. Mobile has made us rethink our mission. We are a company started by geographers. Ok, we have a more diverse group together now, but geography remains at the heart of our work. Our focus is understanding better, and visualizing the space around us.

Geography, space, location, place. With my mobile in hand, I want information about what or who is near me. I want to run analysis based on my current lat/long. Is that handled by a GIS, LBS or other geo-backend? I care little, I just know that my current location is the centre of my focus. Whether I am a public utility worker trying to visualize an underground pipe (layer) and run a network analysis to find the valves which feed the pipe beneath my feet. Or I’m simply trying to see which friends are within a certain distance of my current location. With mobile everything is about location.

We are at the beginning of a geo-sector boom. Its a boom which is driven by mobile, centred on location. Nobody cares about the tags attached to the technology which provides the solutions. Users just want the solutions. And they are location based solutions.

Feel free to let us know your thoughts.

Should We Retire the Term GIS?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

The future of mobile is location! ………. The future of computing is mobile!

Two bold statements. We don’t necessarily believe them yet. But one would be foolish to ignore them offhand. What do these have to do with our question: “Should we retire the term GIS”?

GIS deals with location. Why not simply use this universally understood term when we sell our geo-technology solutions .. and drop GIS altogether? As the need for location technology grows, lets begin to use the language all can understand. GIS is a niche term understood by geo-nerds, often in the public sector (nothing like a good generalization).


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

GeoSpatial Mobile Development: Flex or HTML5?

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

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

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

and this on the Slideshare Blog:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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