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Posts Tagged ‘mobile GIS’

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.

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Building Mobile GIS Apps using Titanium

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012


We build custom cross platform mobile GIS and location based mobile applications. There is our one sentence elevator sales pitch. But what is this cross platform business? Put simply write one code base and run it across multiple platforms. So take your beautiful mobile web application written in HTML5/Javascript convert it to an installed app using Phonegap. Distribute it to the various app stores and you are done. You have created a hybrid mobile app. So why all the fuss over native apps? These are apps written in the language of choice of a specific platform; Objective C for iOS, Java for Android. So multiple versions of the same app need writing for each platform. These sound expensive to write and maintain. As with all things there are advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

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Reflections on CalGIS 2012 & Mobile GIS

Monday, April 16th, 2012


Just back from CalGIS in Sacramento. An interesting two day conference. Our presentation; ‘Is mobile the Future of GIS?” was one of the last sessions on the Friday. Its a shame since we gave an overview of the mobile market space; in hindsight it would have been better positioned early in the conference. Even so, we still managed a good sized audience.

Is Mobile The Future of GIS?

The conference was made up of a cross section of GIS focused organisations across the state; both public and private. We were interested to see which themes were most discussed, and gauge where mobile fits into a traditionally web/desktop GIS focused conference.

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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).

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Custom Mobile ArcGIS Online

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

ArcGIS Online and the new ArcGIS 10.1 release are about to provide a plethora of online and offline mobile GIS solutions. We launched GeoMobile for ArcGIS nearly a year ago. The goal was to provide a custom mobile ArcGIS app. We include a configuration file so users could add their own map layers; basemaps, dynamic and tiled ArcGIS layers. The mobile app has proved to be very popular. But the need for a single service, which provides all map data, has nagged at us. To the rescue comes ArcGIS Online and web maps. Now users can publish their ArcGIS layers, shapefiles, CSV, GPX, KML ad WMS to a single service. The associated web map can then be consumed by mobile applications like GeoMobile for ArcGIS.

ArcGIS 10.1 is exciting for many reasons. Primarily, in this discussion, because it allows users to generate tile packages for use offline. More on this in a later post. Lets first walk through the steps to publish a web map in ArcGIS Online.

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Mobile GIS – Sharing Map Annotation

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012


We wrote a blog entry a while back called ‘Hot Topics in Mobile GIS’. This was a summary of some of the many client conversations we had in 2011, talking about mobile GIS. Moving away from the use of pen and paper while working in the field, was often mentioned. It remains common for field workers to record data using a pen, notepad and paper map. And to then reassemble their thoughts and notes when back in the office. Inaccuracy and inefficiency seemed a common concern. One client said:

“In our ideal world we would simply give our field workers a mobile device loaded with a mobile GIS app. The worker could then annotate the map on the mobile device, store the annotation on the device and either load it into a GIS application running on their PC when back in the office, or send it to an office based employee to do the same”.

Mobile GIS Flexible Frameworks

Around 6 months ago, we released GeoMobile for ArcGIS; a free mobile app in the iOS, Android and Blackberry app markets. This came from our work writing an article for the Winter edition of ArcUser called ‘Developing a Custom ArcGIS Application for the iPad 2’. GeoMobile for ArcGIS is a flexible cross platform framework written in Mobile Flex. We have found this flexibility to be very useful for extending and customising mobile GIS functionality. Building on this work, we are actually in the process of writing an open source equivalent called GeoMobile for GeoServer.

I digress. Given our clients ‘perfect world’ statement above, we decided to use the GeoMobile for ArcGIS framework to build this ‘perfect’ functionality. The ESRI Flex Viewer for ArcGIS has an advanced drawing widget, which allows users to both annotate an ArcGIS map and save and open the annotation. Perfect. We took this widget and ported it to GeoMobile for ArcGIS; made some adaptations and the results you can see demonstrated in the video link below:

Mobile GIS – Sharing Map Annotation Demo

Now field workers can annotate to their hearts content on their mobile. Add lines, points and polygons. Make notes, right on the map. Pipe broken here. Tree down there. Save this off and open it in the Flex Viewer for ArcGIS on their desktop in the office. And move forward.

We think this could be a mobile solution many organizations could find useful. We plan to build this type of functionality into GeoMobile for GeoServer. We’d be interested in your thoughts; is this mobile GIS functionality you could use within your work flow?

Mobile GIS & Resource Management

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Mobile GIS in Archaeology and Historical Preservation

Cultural Resource Management relates to archaeology and historical preservation. We had a recent email from somebody working in this area – thanks Stephen – who discussed how mobile applications, particularly those which utilize GIS, would be a huge help.

Stephen sees an important place for mobile GIS apps in the world of archaeology and historical preservation. He writes:

“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”

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).”

Mobile GIS in Natural Resources Management

Another recent conversation we have had revolved around natural resource 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.”

Mobile GIS in Civil Engineering

Finally civil engineers are looking for solutions to improve how field workers record and update data:

“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. 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 processed first by our GIS administrator before they were committed to the GIS”

Mobile GIS Solutions

With an increasing number of these types of inquiries, we have been looking at the implementation of solutions. The link below is to a video showing an online/offline feature editing solution:

Mobile GIS Editing

We are actively looking at building GeoMobile for Geoserver (we already have released GeoMobile for ArcGIS), an open source mobile GIS viewer. Feature editing as described above will be an important consideration.

Go to our contacts page and let us know the challenges you are facing in the field viewing, editing and adding new data.

Mobile GIS Feature Editing Part 2

Saturday, January 7th, 2012


This is part 2 of a discussion on mobile GIS and feature editing. In part 1 we began the discussion. Here we spoke about saving basemap tiles and shapefiles to the mobile device. How shapefiles can be represented (overlaid) on the map in a number of, less than perfect, ways. We discussed other mobile GIS type apps which load shapefiles. We have actually just created a video which compares a number of these mobile GIS apps, with a focus on shapefile and attribute query. In this article we will take this discussion further and look at possible solutions

Online/Offline Mobile GIS Feature Editing

There are a number of approaches which can be taken when looking at solutions for online and offline feature editing and data recording:

  1. Using the feature layer in ArcGIS – Discussed in this link from ESRI iOS ArcGIS Feature Editing
  2. Writing feature changes and attribute updates to local files on the mobile device (shown below)

Mobile GIS Feature Editing Demo & Local Files

The link below shows a demo of a mobile ArcGIS app showing feature editing on a Samsung mobile smartphone.

Mobile GIS Feature Editing

Discussion

We have discussed in other blog posts how pen and paper are still widely used in the field for recording new and updating existing data respectively. We know ESRI are working on solutions to both viewing layers and editing features in both online and offline modes. The feature layer – ESRI’s equivalent to WFS – approach linked to above is just for the iOS platform. So far we see no cross platform or Android specific mobile ArcGIS solutions. We’ve asked (weeks ago) and still await a reply. The approach allows online/offline feature updating then auto ArcGIS server syncing. We presume the final commit to ArcGIS would be done by a GIS administrator, so no direct update from the field.

But what do you do if you have an old version of ArcGIS server, don’t have feature layers or are using an open source solution?

Solution 2 above, using local files to record data, is a simple and robust solution. This approach is simple, and does not tie you to the latest ArcGIS server release. The video above shows two types of updates. First updating a features geometry. Imagine a pipeline layer which, in sections, is inaccurately represented. Using a markup tool as shown allows users in the field to redraw these sections. This markup is stored in a file and can be loaded by a GIS administrator for a sanity check and GIS update. The markup tool could also be used for adding new features; maybe a new section of pipeline. Second there is updating a features attributes. Loading a locally stored shapefile, editing a features attributes from this shapefile, storing these changes in a local file and sending this to the GIS administrator, again for GIS update.

We are actively looking at building GeoMobile for Geoserver (we already have released GeoMobile for ArcGIS), an open source mobile GIS viewer. Feature editing as described above will be an important consideration.

We’d be interested in any feedback you might have on this article. We have received many inquiries about online and offline data collection and editing functionality. Have you taken one of these approaches, or something different? Is this an area you too are looking for a solution? Tell us more

Offline Mobile GIS Feature Editing Part 1

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

An issue we often get questions about relates to offline GIS and mapping. How do we take our mobile device into an area which lacks WI-FI connectivity and still be able to access base maps and our layers? More than that how do we make edits to or update spatial features and sync these with a central server like ArcGIS? We have been pondering particularly this latter question for a while. Mansour Raad at ESRI, has been a huge help. We adapted some of his code and loaded both base map tiles and a shapefile on a smartphone. More than that we added the ability for users to tap a feature and, eureka, a pop up of the feature attributes appeared. I’ll admit we were jumping up and down in the office when we managed to get all working. Here is are two videos of the app.

Offline Mobile ArcGIS Basemaps and shapefiles

Offline Mobile ArcGIS Feature Editing

But. After testing we did find one problem. The shapefiles loaded very very slowly! Hmmm ….!

Let me digress for a moment. We recently wrote a surprisingly popular blog post reviewing available mobile GIS apps. What did we find? Amongst other things a lack of cross platform apps. Too many are just built for the Apple iOS platform. Also most do not use a spatial server. They are pseudo GIS apps. Meaning they have some GIS functionality but are not driven by a GIS. To us unless ArcGIS or GeoServer are on the server side of the mobile app, call it a clever mapping app. Not GIS. But a number use shapefiles, both loading and rendering and generating. Nice functionality. But none, that we have found, allow feature editing, and centralised storage. The latter is key since collaboration will always be important. Others will want to see and use your updates.

Ok, with that out of the way. Let’s look at the question posed. How does a true GIS mobile app allow non WI-FI connected users to visualize, edit and update layers in ArcGIS? As the videos above shows, base maps tiles loaded onto a mobile device for offline use are no problem. But ArcGIS layers are rendered on the fly. Meaning when online, each zoom or pan requires redrawing of the layer by ArcGIS. How do we store this in offline mode? The obvious choice is a shapefile. So store this spatial layer entity on the device. Load it when required.

Mobile GIS – Querying and Editing Features in a Shapefile

This brings us back to the slow load. In the demo we are using Adobe AIR. The applications takes the geometries in the shapefile and physically draws them. Slow .. you betcha. There are other approaches. Fast layers (again thanks Mansour) in one. Here we can improve the speed of drawing.

Another is not drawing the geometry, but converting the shapefile to a bitmap. Adobe AIR handles bitmaps super fast. So multiple pictures are loaded on the screen. The pictures represent shapefiles. One more potential approach is to convert to svg.

But, click on a feature in, say, a bitmap, maybe a single county in a state, and you are clicking on a picture. How do you relate the point click to the feature? More than that if you want to edit the attributes of that feature, again how do we store this data?

Mobile GIS – Offline Changes Synced with ArcGIS

Lastly, and most importantly, if we want others to have access to these updates how do we upload this data to ArcGIS?

As mentioned we have had requests for this functionality. We feel this relative trickle of emails may become a flood in 2012. So finding a solutions to this conundrum is something we are giving particular attention.

This is part 1 of a two part post. Here we laid out the question. Next we will discuss possible solutions.

Mobile GIS Demos – Endless Possibilties

Monday, November 21st, 2011


Custom cross platform ArcGIS mobile application are relatively new, but offer exciting possibilities. Using one application and running it on Apple, Android and Blackberry devices. ESRI have released their own ArcGIS mobile app which allows access to ArcGISOnline. We have been investigating custom ArcGIS mobile solutions which allow users to access existing ArcGIS layers not currently within ArcGISOnline.

Recently WebMapSolutions launched GeoMobile for ArcGIS; a free ArcGIS mobile viewer. The app is highly customizable, and allows analysis and visualization of spatial data in ArcGIS. GeoMobile for ArcGIS includes:

  1. The application reads a config file, hosted on any Web server, allowing users to add their own layers.
  2. Viewer loads dynamic, tiled and feature ArcGIS layers.
  3. Routing Widget included.
  4. Query Widget included
  5. Geocoder Widget included.
  6. Measure Widget included.
  7. Layer Widget included
  8. Overview Widget included
  9. Geolocator included

The following video in the link below shows a demo of GeoMobile for ArcGIS running on the IPad:

IPad GeoMobile for ArcGIS

This new release is available in the Apple and Android stores from these links:

Free Mobile ArcGIS Viewer in Apple Store

Free Mobile ArcGIS Viewer in Android Market

Offline Mobile ArcGIS

Offline GIS is an important mobile app requirement. The ability to store and access spatial data where Wi-Fi is not available. The video in the link below shows an app being used in online and offline mode. You will see both base map tiles and a shapefile stored on the mobile device and loaded in offline mode:

Offline Mobile ArcGIS Demo

Offline Mobile GIS Shapefile Editing

Another important application of mobile ArcGIS is editing. In offline mode this would mean editing shapefiles. The video in the link below shows an offline mobile GIS application which allows both querying of shapefile feature attributes, and the editing of these attributes:

Offline Mobile ArcGIS Shapefile Editing Demo

Online Mobile ArcGIS Editing

How about editing features on a mobile device while online? The video in the link below shows editing feature attributes in a mobile ArcGIS application. It also demonstrates adding new features to the layer:

Online Mobile ArcGIS Editing demo

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