Introduction

As mobile devices; smartphones, phablets and tablets, have become ever more popular, so the need for location technology has increased. Answering the where or ‘geo’ question is in increasing demand. Esri’s ArcGIS is the most popular GIS platform in the world. The company have been evolving this platform to provide new ways to access GIS data and services. ArcGIS Online and Portal for ArcGIS are two recent additions to the ArcGIS platform. ArcPad has been the most popular tool for mobile ArcGIS access. But advances in the ArcGIS mobile native SDK and ArcGIS Javascript API are offering new ways to access and leverage ArcGIS on mobiles. In particular new and simple ways to use ArcGIS offline.

Background

Users of the new iOS, Android and Windows mobiles have been demanding new ArcGIS apps designed for these devices. ArcPad is a complex, specialised application which was designed to run on laptops or expensive mobile hardware provided by companies including Trimble and F4. In 2015 users are looking for elements of the core functionality provided by ArcPad, but with simpler workflows, the ability to extend and customise, mobile apps which run across platforms (iOS, Android, Windows) and devices (smartphone, phablet, tablet).

Core to these new user requirements is offline, or the ability to access maps and GIS tools while disconnected from the Internet.



Figure 1 – ArcGIS Offline

There are a number of use cases where offline mobile GIS capabilities are potentially important, these include:

– Being in areas with no or poor wi-fi connectivity
– Many mobile devices which lack 3G/4G. These are devices which are only usable indoors or where there is a broadband connection.
– Concerns around the cost of data plans.

ArcGIS Offline Problem

In 2014 Esri released an offline enabled version of Collector for ArcGIS, a free native mobile data collection product, coupled to ArcGIS Online. The app was made available for iOS and Android users. In the same year Esri also launched a new set of native SDK’s for building mobile applications which included offline capabilities.

WebMapSolutions reviewed these Esri releases soon after launch. Our general finding were favourable, but we also recognized gaps. These included:

Collector for ArcGIS
– A canned product which lacks the ability to extend and customize.
– Workflows were not always intuitive, and thus less appealling to non-GIS users.
– Lack of flexibility since coupled to ArcGIS Online.

ArcGIS Native SDK’s
– Developing an ArcGIS offline cross-platform app meant building and maintaining three separate code bases: Java for Android, Objectve-C for iOS and .NET for Windows.

ArcGIS Offline Solution

WebMapSolutions spent a period investigating potential approaches which filled the gaps we recognised in current ArcGIS solutions. We were looking for a way to provide mobile apps which were:

– Simple to extend and customize.
– Provided intuitive workflows for use by all users without the need for training.
– Used a single code base to provide cross-platform, and cross-device access.
– Allowed direct access to ArcGIS Server, ArcGIS Online and Portal for ArcGIS endpoints.
– Provided online and offline access to maps, GIS functionality and editing.

We found Web technology provided the best solution. Javascript/HTML5 is an open technology, which has a world wide developer base. Considerable advances have been made both in this scripting language and browser technology generally. The ArcGIS Javascript API provides a rich set of tools for building advanced mobile ArcGIS apps. Through Javascript frameworks like Bootstrap it has become considerably easier to build cross-device applications using responsive design. Leveraging databases on mobile devices provides offline capabilities from a web page running in the browser. Taking a Javascript widget approach simplifies adding functionality to any web app: custom forms, red line tools and shapefile creation can all be added in a modular way to any app.

DisconnectedJS for ArcGIS

WebMapSolutions have built a Javascript library which can be used to add offline capabilities to any new or existing ArcGIS application respectively.



Figure 2 – DisconnectedJS for ArcGIS

DisconnectedJS for ArcGIS comes with its own API for developers interested in ArcGIS offline. WebMapSolutions have also begun building applications which use DisconnectedJS for ArcGIS. The first release is our DisconnectedJS Offline Editor. These are subscription based products

Conclusion

Use cases are a primary consideration for any mobile ArcGIS project. ArcPad, Collector for ArcGIS and native ArcGIS apps are all potentially important mobile solutions depending on the use case. Web technology is a key addition to this product mix. Developments in Javascript/HTML5 mean that advanced GIS functionality can now be built into any ArcGIS mobile web app. Web apps are flexible and potentially cost effective particularly when a cross-platform, cross-device solution is required. With DisconnectedJS for ArcGIS we have released an extremely powerful offline web based ArcGIS mobile solution.



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