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Posts Tagged ‘mobile’

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.


Is Google Maps GIS Lite?

Friday, May 11th, 2012

We’ve never been a company which sits on its hands and wonders what is around the corner. Sure we have some key partners, but they don’t limit our reach and exploration. Our goal is to provide the most appropriate solution to our clients. That might be an ESRI solution, Google, MapQuest, technology combination, open source. We are continually working to expand our skills and add more tools to our geospatial toolbox. The more tools we have available, the more effective we are at picking the right tool for the job. (we all know using pliers as a hammer is never ideal.)

In the past we have leaned on the likes of ESRI’s ArcGIS Server (and their various web mapping APIs) as well as some of the more advanced open-source options like GeoServer, OpenLayers, OpenScales, etc. But things are changing. Attend any GIS focused conference and you will notice two things. First, that ESRI now talk about “non GIS users”, and not just in passing; all the time. And second that Google are usually there in one form or other. After chatting with one senior Google geo person we decided to look at their offering in greater depth.


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.

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.


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


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.

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 (, their MQVibe product ( 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 ( 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.

Teledyne: - Countless CAD add-ons, plug-ins and more.

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