Why can I not find a configurable mobile GIS App?

We hear more and more about configurable GIS applications. Take an application which has already been built, change the map feed and make some minor aesthetic changes, publish and you have a functional applications which allows users to access and use your data. Increasingly GIS vendors are releasing these so called “configure first” or COTS applications. But these applications are commonly targeted at office based staff. Flexibility is a wonderful things. But when it comes to mobile, configurable is not a term often used. And yet GIS users increasingly are looking for GIS mobile apps they can both customize and extend.

In this post we will discuss this polarized GIS world we currently inhabit, and focus on a new move toward truly flexible mobile GIS apps.

Why can I not find a configurable mobile GIS App?

Types of Mobile GIS Apps

Before we consider the question of configurable mobile GIS apps, let’s first provide some context. Mobile apps can be built in three ways:

1. Native apps – these are applications built for a specific platform and often distributed via the various app stores. Thus, an app built in Objective-C for Apple devices will not run on an Android or Windows mobile device. Native apps remain popular on mobiles. They are fast and can handle large data-sets.

2. Mobile Web apps – these are applications which are opened in your mobile browser: Chrome, Firefox, Safari. They run on any device and any platform. Web apps can be designed so they are responsive, or look good on any mobile device you might be using: laptop, tablet or smartphone. Mobile Web apps are commonly written in HTML5/Javascript, huge advances are underway here with 3-D and offline now becoming popular.

3. Hybrid mobile apps – these are Mobile Web apps which have been converted to be native-like using technologies like Phonegap/Cordova. Like native, they are installed apps which have access to the deeper level sensors on a mobile device: compass, bluetooth etc.

Every GIS project is different. Requirements vary widely. Any decision made on the best mobile solution will be determined by the requirements. In some cases it makes sense to use or build a native app, these include:

– Focus on only one platform: “we need an Android app only”.
– Large budget to support building multiple versions of the same app for different platforms.
– The need to support large data-sets.
– Functionality only available in native SDK’s eg. offline routing.

If you need a super flexible mobile GIS app which you can style/ brand as required, provides specific tools, an app which fits your organizations workflows then web and/or hybrid may be your best bet. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Linking Native Mobile GIS Apps

Today’s native apps are canned apps. Meaning, they are designed to perform specific tasks in a certain way with pre-designed workflows. They cannot be configured or extended. You get what you get.

There has been a move recently to link native apps. As an example, you are using a data collection GIS app and would like to find how to get to your next destination. Having your data collection app open a routing app is one new approach. It means users need to install, update and work with multiple different mobile apps. But does help overcome, to some degree, the narrow focus of native GIS apps.

New Configurable Mobile GIS Apps

Mobile Web apps are by their very nature flexible. They are easier to develop and maintain than native apps. Most importantly they are configurable, and can be extended. One very attractive new way to build mobile web apps is to use widgets. These are GIS tools which can be added to any mobile web app as needed. Need a measure tool, maybe editing, draw, custom form. Widgets provide an amazing level of flexibility to configure, customize and extend any mobile Web app.

Need access to high accuracy GPS from your web app? Simply convert the app to a hybrid app using Phonegap/Cordova.

Need a mobile app which works offline? Again mobile web to the rescue.

Web apps provide a new level of flexibility and configurability to mobile users.

As we have mentioned the choice of mobile GIS app is very much determined by requirements. Mobile Web apps provide considerably more flexibility than native mobile apps. If you are frustrated that existing mobile GIS apps do not fully fit your needs; lacking tools and good workflows. It might be worth exploring mobile Web GIS apps.

Contact us for more information on 801-733-0723.

Teledyne Optech

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