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Jan 17

The Future of the Esri Flex for ArcGIS Viewer

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Jan 17

We’ve worked with a variety of viewers and frameworks from Esri. We have fond memories of the HTML Viewer for ArcIMS, less enthusiasm for Web ADF, and a real affection for the Flex for ArcGIS Viewer. As a company we have spent much time working with the Flex viewer. It remains very popular, and the Esri Flex team keep moving things forward; including now support for ArcGIS Online.

We hope this viewer remains popular. But we have wondered about its long term future. With Adobe’s rather abrupt refocus on HTML5, the world of Flash and Flex have for a while been in doubt. Apples decision to not support Flash Player on their mobile devices effectively forced Adobe’s hand. As we move towards a world of data and application access from wherever, and whenever only truly cross platform technologies will likely survive.

The End of Browser Based Flex?

Maybe then the writing is on the wall for browser based technologies which rely on plug-ins; Flash, Flex, Silverlight. But is that the end of Flex and products built using Flex such as the Esri viewer? In the browser over the long term quite possibly. But what about outside of the browser. Enter Mobile Flex. Adobe some years ago launched a non-browser based version of Flex called Apollo, this later became AIR. This is essentially Flex without the need for browser or plug-ins; providing the ability to build installable apps. At the time we wondered about the thinking behind the launch of AIR. Then came the mobile revolution. AIR, or Mobile Flex as it has been named, allows Flex apps to be built as installable applications; an app you can upload to the various mobile stores.

So the mobile app world in early 2013 is split. There are the browser based apps which are rightly dominated by HTML5. And the installed apps traditionally built using native languages, where the app is written for one platform only; iOS or the iPad for example. Now with Mobile Flex and Phonegap for Javascript, it is possible to build hybrid mobile apps. These are cross platform installed mobile apps. Our preference is Mobile Flex, since all the advantages of Flex remain in place and the generation of final versions of apps targeting the various platforms is simple.

So where does that leave the Flex for ArcGIS viewer? Certainly it will remain a popular office PC based option. Esri themselves, with their roll out of ArcGIS Online, are beginning to get behind focused apps. So away from the swiss army knife approach of old, where as much functionality was stuffed into a web viewer as possible. The Flex for ArcGIS viewer can be a focused app, since widgets can be added and removed. But the temptation is often to keep adding more widgets to serve an ever wider group of users accessing the viewer. Esri envisages lightweight apps to be built which have a specific workflow in mind. They are moving towards a world of multiple configurable apps which serve specific purposes; data collection, feature inspection, map annotation, offline visualization.

Flex for ArcGIS Viewer on a iPad

Last year we attempted to port the Flex for ArcGIS viewer to Mobile Flex and run it on an iPad. Technically we found this was not possible (the viewer uses Flex modules which are not supported in AIR). Not to be put off we built our own mobile framework and began porting individual modules from the Flex for ArcGIS viewer. The results of this work we launched as a free app in both the Apple and Android stores called GeoMobile for ArcGIS. Using the same Mobile Flex framework, last year we launched a sister product targeted at ArcGIS Online called GeoMobile for ArcGIS Online.

We are now building focused customizable mobile apps porting widgets from the Flex for ArcGIS viewer for clients.

Offline Mobile ArcGIS Viewer

Given the interest in disconnected mobile GIS, we have been busy building a Mobile Flex offline editing solution. We have a number of articles on our ArcGIS Online blog discussing this work.

Esri HTML5 Web Templates

For web ArcGIS apps, we have been putting much time into the new ArcGIS Online we templates. Again custom, focused browser based apps accessing ArcGIS Online. These will likely compliment the Flex for ArcGIS viewer in the near term.

Conclusion

The Flex for ArcGIS viewer remains an excellent option to access ArcGIS server and ArcGIS Online. But lack of support for the Flash Player in the mobile world will limit its reach. By leveraging Mobile Flex, focused apps can be built using existing widgets from the Flex for ArcGIS viewer. These apps can then be accessed from all mobile platforms including the iPad and iPhone.

Contact us at info@webmapsolutions.com for more information.

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