Mobility often means the use of laptop, tablet and/or smartphone at any location. Windows based laptops are still very commonly used in the field. In the utilities industry for example field based staff more commonly today use laptops in trucks in preference to smartphones or tablets. In mining exploration a combination of laptops, at base stations, and tablets in the field are common. For real estate agents smartphones which are easy to carry and often preferred.

Need a cross-platform map app that can be displayed on laptop, tablet and smartphone from any location?

Mobile Web versus Native Apps

There is only one way to build a mobile GIS or maps app which can be used on laptop, tablet and smartphone from any location and that is to develop a mobile Web app.

There is often confusion around mobile. Two types of mobile apps are today popular. First native apps. These are built for one specific platform, so Apple, Android or Windows. They are install-able and usually distributed via the various mobile stores. A native app built for the iPad will not run on an Android device or Windows based laptop. All mobile devices have Web browsers, these now provide advanced capabilities including the ability to work in 3D and to take an application offline. The beauty of mobile web apps is since browsers are ubiquitous they will run on any device and any platform. So switch from your office PC to your laptop or tablet and you are able to use the same mobile app. Web GIS apps are more flexible, cheaper to build and maintain than their native counterparts. It should be noted, the best choice of mobile technology depends on requirements. In some cases it makes sense to build a native app (eg. targeting only one platform, working with large data sets etc), but the popularity of mobile Web GIS apps is on the rise.

Flexible Mobile GIS Web Apps

We are finding many of our clients are concerned about flexibility when it comes to their mobile GIS apps. That not only means mobile apps which run on any device (laptop, tablet, smartphone), and any platform (Windows, Apple, Android), but apps which can be extended or altered to fit with internal workflows. Mobile GIS Web apps provide incredible flexibility.

We were recently approached by a small electric utility coop. They had the following set of requirements:

a) A single mobile GIS app which could run on laptops, iPads and (in the future) Android tablets
b) Have the ability to view basemaps and point, line or polygon layers
c) The mobile app need to include the following tools:
– Measurement
– Draw
– Edit
– Form (which could be converted to PDF)
– Print
d) The app need work both online and offline

Our developers thought long and hard about the best approach. Rather than producing a one off custom mobile GIS app, they decided to build the app on top of a framework which allowed the app to be configured by the client. A widget based approach was taken. The required tools were each built separately as configurable widgets: measurement, draw, edit, custom form, print.

Taking advantage of the new offline capabilities of today’s browsers like Chrome, we also added the ability to work with certain widgets while offline. So basemaps and layers were copied to local databases on the device. This not only allowed map and feature asset interaction, but also editing while in areas with poor or no wireless connection.

The approach proved very successful. Being configurable the client could add or hide widgets as required. New widgets can be easily built to extend the functionality. Maybe most importantly the mobile app works on any device and at any location with or without wireless connectivity.

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





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