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Posts Tagged ‘smartphone’

4 Popular Uses of Mobile GIS

Monday, March 3rd, 2014


As a mobile GIS development company we have had many fascinating conversations with clients, and built some very cool apps. We thought it might be interesting to look back at our experiences and list 4 popular uses of Mobile GIS.

Disaster Management and Assessment

Time is of the essence when managing disasters. Both providing relief to affected communities quickly, then following up with assessment and help with rebuilding. Mobile GIS has become a very important tool used by NGO’s and public safety departments.

We wrote last year about work we were doing with Monroe County. They were looking into improving their pen, paper and spreadsheet based approach to disaster assessment. Providing iPad’s to non-GIS trained Red Cross volunteers, loaded with a simple to use GIS app, was the goal of the work. The mobile GIS app built by WebMapSolutions allowed these volunteers to view interactive maps, collect data, share and collaborate while on site. The data resulting from the field reporting was quickly provided to state officials as an interactive Web map which was easy to understand, showed damage information at a parcel level, and helped with discerning patterns. This Web map approach has dramatically helped the decision making process, allowing for fast turnaround of relief funds.


Apple Helps Bring Mobile & Location to Center Stage

Thursday, June 14th, 2012


Our thinking has been for the longest time that mobile will revolutionize the field of location-focused technology. Niche areas like GIS will be pulled into the mainstream under the location technology umbrella. Location based services (LBS) will coalesce with other location focused technologies.

As a company, we made a strategic decision nearly 2 years ago to move our focus from GIS development for the PC web, to mobile location app development. This year has been crazy busy. Combine this with Apples recent announcement, the launch of ESRI’s ArcGIS online, and new developments at Google and MapQuest, and we feel our strategy was correct; location is now at center stage in the mobile world. Making the decision when we did has also allowed us to develop expertise, and thus leadership in the location mobile app development space.


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.


Mobile ArcGIS Online-Offline Editing

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

No doubt the most frequent approach we get for the mobile ArcGIS apps we develop are offline or disconnected workflows. Clients want both to be able to visualize basemaps and their layers when out of wi-fi range, and offline editing; new feature additions, deletions and attribute edits.

ArcGIS 10.1 gives us tile packages (.tpk) so we can store tile pyramids locally on the device. Mansour has a nice example showing how to access basemap tiles using a tpk in offline mode on his blog.

The real challenge is offline editing. ESRI introduced Feature Server with Feature layers in ArcGIS 10, which work nicely in online mode. In April they released an Online-Offline Editing Sample using their iOS api. They include in their notes supporting the sample:

“For the sake of simplicity, the sample ….only allows you to add new features when the application is offline, not modify or delete existing features.”

Now there is the real challenge, what they have left out of the sample.


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.


Custom Mobile ArcGIS – Web Maps &

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

We launched GeoMobile for ArcGIS to both demonstrate a custom cross platform (one code base which runs on multiple platforms) mobile ArcGIS app, and experiment with porting widgets from the Flex viewer for ArcGIS. The results have been met with enthusiasm by the user community. By adding a configuration file which the mobile app reads at startup, the app allows users to load their own ArcGIS server layers; so those from their own ArcGIS server instance or cloud based. Our work now mostly revolves around building custom tools for use in the mobile viewer.


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 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

Mobiles & Field Data Collection

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Recently we’ve had considerable interest in mobile application development based around check-in and mobile data collection. Facility management companies, surveyors, multi-level marketing, insurance claims, pipeline companies, water utilities; all have field workers who would benefit from mobile applications. Not only checking in to work sites, but keeping a record of the work done; notes, pictures, video, even voice records. To help with our discussions with these potential clients, we put together a demo which pulls together much of this proposed functionality. We have included in this article both screen shots of the key functionality in the demo, plus a video of the actual application.

A key challenge of building the demo was finding a suitable mobile application tool set. Initially we discussed using a combination of SimpleGeo with a mapping API. But MapQuest came to the rescue with their new Flash mobile tool set. Not only do they provide routing and traffic data, but local search, and a range of other functionality all easily integrated with the map.

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Opening Screen

The opening screen in the application shows the base functionality. Each view or tool is listed as a selectable image. At any point a user can open the map to see their current location. This changes as the user moves. As we will discuss, the map is also utilised by other tools in the application.

SmartPhone MapQuest Data Collection Application

Figure 1 – SmartPhone MapQuest Data Collection Application

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Directions Screen

Let’s imagine a potential scenario. A field worker starts each day by opening a mobile application such as the one we are describing here. They want to start by seeing the days calls and an optimised route to these calls, mapped out for them. In Figure 2 we show a single source and destination mapped. MapQuest also allow for multiple source-destinations to be entered and displayed. At any point in the day the user can open this tool and see on the map the location of their next call.

SmartPhone MapQuest Directions View

Figure 2 – SmartPhone MapQuest Directions View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Check-In Screen

Next, the worker arrives at the first call and wishes to check-in. Figure 3 shows the check-in screen. There are two options shown. First a check-in by venue; so a field technician about to fix the air conditioning in a specific 7-11, for example. In the demo the user would type in the address, this could just as easily be a selection from a list of venues nearby. The second option is a check-in by current location or lat/long. Maybe a surveyor wishing to record, or check-in at a particular point. The check-in process would send name, id, location and time to the company server. A check-out would similarly record similar data centrally.

SmartPhone MapQuest Check-In View

Figure 3 – SmartPhone MapQuest Check-In View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Local Search Screen

At any point in the day a field worker might wish to do a local search. A search for venues, points of interest, maybe people within a certain distance of a location. The MapQuest api offers many possibilities for these types of searches. In Figure 4 and Figure 8, we show a simple venue search within a certain radius of either current location or from a specific address.

SmartPhone MapQuest Search View

Figure 4 – SmartPhone MapQuest Search View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – GeoCoder Screen

A geocoder is a useful tool. In Figure 5 we show how users can type in an address, and use MapQuest to add a marker to the map of that location.

SmartPhone MapQuest GeoCoder View

Figure 5 – SmartPhone MapQuest GeoCoder View

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application – Data Screen

Data collection is often an important part of a field workers job. Surveyors, service technicians, pipeline inspectors are all recording data while in the field. Mobile applications are perfect both for recording and storing location based data – notes, pictures, voice records, video. They are also ideal for reviewing historic data. Let’s imagine a pipeline inspectors who on August 1, 2011 inspected a section of pipeline. He records what he sees using this mobile application. A field engineer, using the same application, views this data and makes appropriate repairs. A second inspection done on September 1, 2011 again using the mobile application, to view images and notes made a month before and by the field engineer, shows the work was completed successfully. This is a very real work flow.

Figure 6 shows the applications data screen. The search option makes a request to the company server for past data records. The search could be done by date, location or any number of other criteria.

SmartPhone MapQuest Data View

Figure 6 – SmartPhone MapQuest Data View 1

Figure 7 shows the summary data input view. So this is a summary of the data recorded by the field worker prior to storage. The camera on a mobile device can be used to attach photos or video to the work order. Mobile devices also have voice recorders. Notes can also be included in the data stored. The data itself can be attached to a check-out, or stored locally on the mobile device, maybe for later upload to a central company server.

SmartPhone MapQuest Data View

Figure 7 – SmartPhone MapQuest Data View 2

Mobile Worker Data Collection Application Video

See the application being demo’d in this video.


MapQuest have an excellent new set of mobile tools. The application discussed in this article is based on input from potential client. Those who have seen the application have been excited by the possibilities. When clients can see live demos of mobile solutions it often elicits new thinking and ideas. As mobile application developers the ideas which come from these discussions and demos are why we love what we do.

WebMapSolutions are a Utah mobile application development company. Specializing in locations based services (LBS), GIS and mapping applications. For more information contact

Video: ArcGIS 2.4 on an Android SmartPhone

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

We continue to work with the new ESRI Flex 2.4 release in conjunction with Flash Builder 4.5.1 to build mobile apps. The attraction of Mobile Air is that one code base can be installed on multiple mobile platforms. That is potentially a big cost saving. To prove a point, we built an ArcGIS IPad app, first in Flex then ported it to mobile AIR. We have now taken that code base and installed it on an Android device, in this case the Samsung Infuse. Here is a video of the application:

Video of ArcGIS 2.4 running on an Android SmartPhone

The application is now available as a free install on any Android device in the Android Store see also this link:

If you do try it, we would be interested in your feedback. Contact

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