Are you wondering about Mobile GIS? Looking to improve how your field staff get their work done, looking to provide access to maps and GIS from any device and any mobile platform? In this article we will discuss some of the core elements of mobile GIS.
Mobile GIS Platform
Often a first question for those of us looking to use or build mobile GIS apps is: which mobile platform should we target – Apple, Android, Windows? At one time, this singular question was popular. We were focused on one platform, then often the popular choice was targeting Apple devices; the iPad and iPhone. But things are changing. The popularity of mobile devices means users have a mix of Apple, Android, and Windows devices. Cross-platform is increasingly the focus of today. That is mobile GIS apps which run on any device. Mobile Web GIS is one of the best cross-platform solutions. Ever more of our mobile development, as a company, is web focused for this reason.
Mobile GIS Device Type
Smartphones, tablets and the new phablets are today’s popular mobile GIS device types. Smartphones are the most common, and have come a long way over the last few years. Screen size and capacity have increased. Smartphones with 5″ screens, fast processors and large storage capacity are common. That dramatically improves the user experience particularly with GIS apps. In general terms though it is still true that smartphones are best used with simple apps. For GIS that means viewing maps and map layers, routing, and simple data collection. Many GIS tools or more complex functionality demand the larger screens of tablets and laptops. That brings up an often overlooked mobile device type the laptop. Laptops remain popular mobile devices. They are often used at remote base stations, and in vehicles. One reason why mobile Web GIS apps are ever more popular is because they are cross-device or run on any mobile device type including laptops.
Offline Maps and Offline GIS
Two years ago there was a huge demand for offline GIS. And there were no solid solutions. That has now changed. Technology has advanced, now there are new ways to build offline enabled GIS mobile apps. We have argued for the longest time that all mobile apps should be offline enabled. That applies to mobile GIS apps used both in remote and populated areas.
Poor or no wireless connectivity is a very common challenge. If your mobile GIS app does not have the ability to use locally stored maps and data it will often be slow or unusable; a huge frustration to users. There are still not enough good offline enabled GIS apps available. Those that have been released are commonly native, or targeted at one platform or device. As we have discussed above there is an increasing demand for cross-platform, cross-device mobile GIS apps. In our case that means building mobile Web GIS apps which are offline enabled.
With the popularity of cloud computing we now often hear the term GIS Platform. There are many out there including Esri’s ArcGIS, GISCloud, MapBox. These are usually relatively low cost GIS services which take little time to set up and configure. They provide the maps and GIS muscle for your mobile GIS app. The most suitable platform depends on your needs. ArcGIS is arguably the most comprehensive and complete, it is a true enterprise solution for use across the organization. But others should not be overlooked.
Mobile Web GIS
We’ve mentioned mobile Web GIS a number of times in this article. The development of cross-platform, cross-device, offline enabled mobile GIS apps has become an increasing part of our company focus. Web based mobile apps are easier to build and maintain, provide advanced functionality and most importantly run anywhere, regardless of which device you use.
That is very powerful!
Are they a solution to all mobile GIS problems? No. But from our experience the majority. If performance, access to mobile sensors, and/or working with large datasets are part of your requirements then a native app may be the best choice. A recent super helpful development is the ability to convert a mobile GIS Web app to a native app (actually called hybrid) using PhoneGap/Cordova.
So there you have it. Mobile is revolutionizing GIS. Now we can use GIS anywhere, anytime on any device. We will focus over the next few blog articles on digging deeper into mobile GIS.