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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 App Planning Guide

Sunday, October 30th, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile Application Development Brainstorming

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

Mobile Application Development Roughs

Figure 1: Mobile Application Roughs

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

Mobile Application Flow

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

Mobile Application Development Professionals

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

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

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

Mobile Application Development Estimates

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

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

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

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


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

Mobile Application Development – Making Changes

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

Mobile Application Development & Successful Outcomes

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

The End (or just the beginning)

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

GeoSpatial Mobile Developers

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

As a company, we sometimes wonder who are our competition. Fundamentally we build mobile location based solutions, both mobile GIS and location based services. Turning to Google I tried some searches. A number of variation on a theme so; mobile gis application developers, geo-spatial mobile developers, mobile location based application developers, mobile location services, location cross platform mobile development. To my amazement the searches came back with very few companies. Very strange. It seems an obvious fit; mobile applications which take advantage of, and utilize mobile data.

Is geo-spatial or location based mobile application development just a niche? Maybe most application development companies are focused on general mobile app development? Perhaps its because mobile is so new, that both clients and software development companies are still trying to fit mobile into their overall plan.

Mobile Location Services

The mobile location sector is very fragmented at the moment. On one side we have ESRI, the worlds biggest GIS company. They were slow in entering the Web, they are moving quicker with mobile, but their world remains GIS focused. And that is a niche no doubt. They have yet to broaden their appeal beyond their core, mostly public, GIS community.

Mobile Application Development IPad

Figure 1: ESRI ArcGIS running on the IPad

The location based sector is more dynamic. Its somewhat a bubble at the minute, with tonnes of VC money pouring into some frankly daft ideas. But there are some gems within that world. Like the dot com boom and bust, many will fall but some real innovation will come from this sector. There are huge opportunities to build location based applications, classed as location based services (LBS), to use in marketing, advertising and beyond on mobile devices. At present this sector is narrowly focused on consumers. Broadening solutions to the enterprise offers mouth watering possibilities. Figure 2 below shows a mobile check-in and data collection application which allows field service techs, surveyors, water utility workers, indeed any workers in the field to utilize mobile in their daily work routines.

MapQuest have an interesting offering. They were one of the the earliest companies to put maps on the Web. Initially focused on routing/directions, and traffic, they have broadened their offering to to include local search, marker and map overlays. In October they announce their Flash mobile API release. This is a big deal. More about Flash in a minute. But the MapQuest offering is in many ways made for mobile. Imagine being able to access routing and up to date traffic information while on the road. Look ahead and see accidents on your route and avoid them. Conduct local searches; find venues near you. Overlay KML and GeoRSS markers on the map to see points of interest (POI). Tonnes of possibilities.

Mobile Application Development MapQuest Flash API

Figure 2: MapQuest Enterprise Check-In and Data Collection App

Location Based Cross Platform Mobile Development

Objective C has become one of the most in demand programming languages. This relates to the popularity of Apple mobile devices. Most of the apps in the Apple App Store are written in Objective C. Successful mobile application development shops are filled with Objective C developers. But the game is changing. Android, and other mobile platforms are becoming increasingly more popular. Where does that leave your beautiful Objective C application? Only running on Apple products that’s where! You’ll need to rewrite it for Android, BlackBerry, Windows!

Now, thankfully there are cross platform solutions. Two of the most notable are Adobe AIR and PhoneGap. With AIR you can take your existing Flex or Flash apps and convert it to a mobile applications. Or build your AIR mobile app from scratch. But, most importantly, run the app on all mobile platforms. With PhoneGap take your Javascript application and do the same. That is one code base, which runs across mobile platforms. Simple.

Geo-Spatial Cross Platform Mobile Development

We have digressed slightly from our original topic. The future of mobile is very interesting, and filled with opportunities. Location will be at the core of many, if not most mobile applications. One day it might be pointless for companies such as us to target location based cross platform application development. But at the minute it seems to make tonnes of sense. Mobiles devices are computers with ever changing locations. Taking advantage of location to provide dynamic data – traffic ahead, what or who is near me, analysis by current location – has endless possibilities. Cross platform too. Who has the money or time to build multiple versions of the same application to run across each mobile platform? Build it once and deploy it to all would seem to be the future.

We might be wrong. But we are going to stay focused on cross platform location based mobile application solutions.

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