There are an increasing number of GIS mobile apps available in the various app stores. Surprisingly few are cross platform; meaning one application which is built to run on multiple mobile devices; Apple, Android, BlackBerry. This is likely a result of the early dominance of Apples IPad and IPhone. Many mobile application development companies built apps which were targeted at the Apple devices. Unfortunately the language of choice for Apples IOS – Objective C – is only for Apples platform. If you want the same app to run on an Android device, the app needs rewriting. As we near the end of 2011, and with the increasing popularity of Android, the need for cross platform solutions puts many of these single platform apps at a disadvantage. Lets look at some of the apps out there.
Cross Platform Mobile GIS Apps
1) ESRI’s ArcGIS App (Apple, Android) FREE It took ESRI sometime to launch this app into the Android Market, but now we have this excellent mobile app in the Apple and Android App stores. Using the app you can add your own layers to any number of basemaps. Whether the data resides on your own ArcGIS server or in ArcGISOnline. Zoom to your current location and use measure tools to calculate lengths and areas. There is little doubt this app will be extended over time to include more tools. For those wanting to quickly see their GIS data, this is the best mobile app out there.
Score 8/10 (more tools please)
2) GIS Mobile from Imperious (Android, Apple soon) FREE – This is the first ArcGIS viewer, outside of the ESRI product, that we have really liked. It is very intuitive to use. A nice set of map tools are available, multiple basemaps can be added, bookmarks and a find function are also included. We did find some of the buttons were non functioning, and feel the lack of ability to add our own layers was a major drawback. But its free, and clearly the developers have big plans ahead. It appears to be written in Adobe AIR, so IOS and Blackberry launches should be occurring soon. Overall one to keep an eye on we feel.
Score 4/10 (a good start)
3) GeoMobile for ArcGIS (Apple, Android) FREE – It would be folly for us not to mention our app. Available on all major platforms. The viewer allows users to add their own ArcGIS layers; dynamic, tiled and feature. We have included a number of tools, but many more can be added. In its current form the app is a visualization and query tool. But we are working with clients to include a plethora of other uses. The list includes:
- Visualization of spatial data
- Spatial query and search
- Feature addition and editing
- Online & offline data collection
The application is free because we wanted to demonstrate the use of mobile ArcGIS across different platforms. The intention was certainly not to build a so called ‘teaser app’. Hopefully if you download the app, you will get a flavor of the potential for ArcGIS in the mobile world. We have included some sample mobile GIS tools, just for demonstration purposes. The app itself has been designed to be very flexible and extensible. Areas of particular focus to us are online/offline mobile GIS, mobile feature editing in the field, the integration of GPS (geolocation) into the GIS work-flow and much more.
GeoMobile for ArcGIS is the best custom cross platform mobile ArcGIS solution currently in the market. With the support of ESRI, we are extending the app to meet specific client requirements.
4) Freeance Mobile (Apple, Android, Blackberry) Fee based
Review to come
Platform Specific Mobile GIS Apps
1) WolfGIS (Apple) LIMITED VERSION FREE – We like this mobile app, particularly its design. It is not using a recognised spatial server that we can see like ArcGIS or Geoserver, basemaps are being pulled from Google. Though it is free, without an account, functionality is limited. We liked the compass, thought local weather option was a little odd. A help screen would be nice. No full extent is annoying. The app has been designed for a specific purpose, so not an extensible GIS app as we had hoped. But overall a good effort. It would be nice if there were an Android version.
Score 6/10 (nice design but limited functionality)
2) GISRoam (Apple) LIMITED VERSION FREE -This is a very nicely designed app. The app allows users to work with shapefiles both on and offline. Users sign up and pay for an account. This then enables the uploading of shapefiles from your PC to the account, these can then in turn be downloaded to your GISRoam IPad app. The mobile app comes with a number of nice tools; measure, feature selection, attribute viewer, and attribute query. The user reviews are very positive; people really like this app.
What we don’t like. Trying to close the pop ups or overlay screens is a pain. Feature attributes are better presented as info boxes on the map – tap a feature and bingo there appears a small attributes info window. Having to open an attributes pop up which completely covers the map we did not like. The same with the legend. There is no way to leave these open and continue map interaction.
5/10 (not bad could be more intuitive, and workflow needs more thought)
3) IGIS (Apple) $30 – We tried the free version of this app some while ago. It was quite awful. Non intuitive, limited functionality and often froze or crashed. We read they now have a paid for version which users seem to like. We will reinstall and provide more feedback in due course. At $30 we hope there have been some major improvements.
Update: The newest version of the app is an improvement. Identify is nicely done. But the functionality remains somewhat limited. We really disliked was how panning and zooming cause overlaid layers (roads for example in the Australia sample) to disappear then reappear. This was also evident in GISRoam and WolfGIS. IGIS is a little ‘clunky’ to use, lacks help docs, and lacks the polish of a top GIS app. Overall, and we hate to say it, we are not big fans of IGIS.
4) GIS Kit and GIS Pro (Apple) $99.99/$300 – We could not get trial versions of these apps, so screenshots and video are the only way we can judge its functionality. We did wonder why GIS was included in the title. Maybe the shapefile generation function makes them worthy of this label. These are basically mobile data collection tools.
It would be nice to see more on GIS Pro. As a company, we are working with offline and online data collection within our functional suite, it would be interesting integrating the tools available in these apps with our work. Note, at $300 GIS Pro is not cheap.
5) Field Assets (Apple) $16.99 – At $16.99 this looks like an excellent data collection tool. Simple, easy to use seem the order of the day. No mention of GIS, but the output could be easily used in a GIS.
Score 7/10 (love the simplicity)
Video Comparing Mobile GIS Apps
We recently put together a video which compares a number of the mobile GIS apps reviewed in this article:
Mobile GIS App Thoughts
Good GIS apps are now just appearing in the various app stores. Cross platform solutions are a must. As a company, we rarely now get clients asking for a single platform solution. The days of build this for the IPhone or IPad only are gone. ESRI are putting increasing effort into their mobile solutions. They are providing some great tools for companies like ours to build custom mobile GIS solutions for clients. It would be nice to see a good open source mobile GIS app launched into the app stores. An Openlayers/Geoserver mobile app would be a very nice addition. We like the standard Apple design (see WolfGIS), it looks very slick and professional. But we cannot help preferring apps which have their own unique feel and design. One style does not fit all. These will evolve over time.
We will add more apps to this post over time. Feel free to email us if you have a favourite mobile GIS app.
WebMapSolutions are a Utah mobile application development company. We specialize in building mobile applications. Our mobile apps are cross platform, meaning they run on iPhone, IPad, Blackberry and Android devices. Using location in our mobile apps is a key specialty; check-in, location-based data collection, mapping, and GIS are important areas of our mobile business.
WebMapSolutions are located in Salt Lake City, Utah, and have been developing software since 2006. You can reach us on 801-733-0723.