With billions of users worldwide, apps are a technology trend that has captured the world’s attention. Online maps provide the information that powers the use of GIS. And every map has an interface—a user experience for putting that map to use. These experiences are apps, and they bring GIS to life for users.
Apps are lightweight computer programs designed to run on the web and on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. GIS apps are a special breed; they’re map-centric and spatially aware. Seemingly overnight, apps are ubiquitous. Billions of people worldwide run them in their web browsers, on computers and, of course, on their mobile devices. Creating interesting geographically aware apps is now within your reach. From the intuitive story map app and Web AppBuilder to the app collection for your smartphone and tablet, the technology required to deploy highly effective apps that can really engage an audience is accessible.
Apps are often built around targeted workflows that deliver streamlined user experiences. They’re designed to guide users through specific tasks, to show just the data that is required for that task, and to allow ease of communication of your message. This chapter shows where apps come from and how you can start to create your own. It explores some of the innovative ways that apps are being used to do real work with ArcGIS. You’ll discover ArcGIS apps for the work you do, no matter what the task or the device. Need to collect data in the field? There’s an app. Need to share your data with the public? There’s an app for that, too. Whether you’re managing a mobile workforce, creating a geolocation startup, or looking for innovative ways to share your information in a useful and meaningful way, apps are your way to do that.
The notion of government as a platform fundamentally means that innovation can come from anywhere—inside government or out. That’s because the data that has typically been locked within government silos is now openly available for anyone to use, remix, and build upon. This only works if citizens are interested and willing to step up and get involved. And they are, particularly when there is an opportunity related to a place where they live and care about. That’s why open geospatial data is so attractive to those wishing to make government more of a platform. People care about the buildings near them, the schools their kids are eligible for, and the new businesses on their block. They care even more about how all those things together form a vision of health and well-being for their community. GIS helps bring that vision to life.
I firmly believe the best way to connect with people is to go to where they are. Thus, I also believe the next step for open data is to go more proactively to where citizens are. That means not just posting the restaurant inspection scores on an open data portal, but integrating those scores with restaurant search engines such as Yelp. It means publishing building inspection records on Zillow. It means incorporating traffic and transit information on Google, Waze, and Apple. All these things are, in fact, already happening. Indeed, I think it’s just the start. What’s next is exciting: what are the other consumer apps that could be made more civic?
We should not only be creating beautiful and elegant citizen-facing solutions but also developing more effective tools for public servants to better serve the community: data analysis tools to prioritize service delivery, workflow systems to streamline communications, and data collection tools to speed up on-the-ground reporting, just to name a few. These are force multipliers. They enable public servants to serve more people better, faster, and smarter.
In 2009, the US Geological Survey began the release of a new generation of topographic maps (US Topo) in electronic form, and in 2011, complemented them with the release of high-resolution scans of historical topographic maps of the United States dating back to 1882. The topographic map remains an indispensable tool for everyday use in government, science, industry, land management planning, and recreation.
Historical maps are snapshots of the nation’s physical and cultural features at a particular time. Maps of a particular area can show how the area looked before development and provide a detailed view of changes over time. Historical maps are often useful to scientists, historians, environmentalists, genealogists, citizens, and others researching a particular geographic location or area. The USGS, with help from Esri, has created an app that lets you view this extensive collection of USGS topographic maps in one central location. The USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer makes it easier to dig into and enjoy this library of more than 178,000 historical maps in a web application that organizes the maps by space, time, and map scale.
Using the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer is easy—just follow the numbered steps at the left of the interface pane. The choices you make will update the adjacent map view.
Here’s how to get the most out of the app:
You can get usable apps on your own devices and those of your audience from a number of sources. They range from the off-the-shelf apps from Esri and other developers in the business community—and "roll-your-own" apps that you configure and publish using templates and builders—to fully customized solutions built by developers with software development kits (SDKs) and application program interfaces (APIs).
ArcGIS includes a suite of apps that are ready to go and free to use if you have an ArcGIS account. Mapping apps, like ArcGIS Explorer for the Mac, provide a way to manage a collection of data.
ArcGIS Marketplace is where you can obtain not only apps and data services from Esri but also its distributors and partners. All the apps in the Marketplace are built to work with ArcGIS Online, so they can easily be shared with ArcGIS Online groups and users within your organization.
ArcGIS Solutions are available for a range of industries such as local and state government, emergency management, utilities, telecommunications, military, and intelligence.
Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS enables you to create custom web mapping applications in an intuitive environment.
Coding custom apps requires the greatest level of effort, but provides the most flexibility.
This section describes almost a dozen different things that can be done with apps. As you read through it, think about what it is that you need to do that could fit into one of these patterns. We’ll show you how to get started using these in the Quickstart section, so for now just consider the possibilities.
You can author a story map fairly easily by choosing from the many storytelling narrative styles offered in ArcGIS to bring your data to life. Story map apps combine maps with rich narratives and multimedia content that connect with an audience and keep them engaged.
Map-centric apps offer an exciting and engaging way to publish your geographic information. When you can interact with a live map, send queries back to the GIS of the world, have the app follow you and alert you when you get certain places, all of a sudden you’ve got something very powerful and engaging because the experience is personal and familiar to you.
Apps provide the interface for the efficient collection of spatial data. You can work offline in the field with a native data collection app or employ crowdsourcing or VGI (volunteered geographic information) using a web app.
The dramatic rise of high-powered, smart mobile devices means that almost everyone has a highly capable sensor in their pocket. This opens mobile data collection to almost every organization or person in the developed world. Big strides in cellular and mobile infrastructure have allowed GIS apps to be deployed in even the poorest regions internationally. The ubiquitous presence of handheld devices is being leveraged as a data collection tool very successfully throughout the world.
Geographic insight is often the best way to answer pressing questions. Overlaying multiple layers on a map and analyzing them with advanced spatial models can highlight relationships that are not otherwise apparent. Knowledge workers using ArcGIS have the power to build models to answer almost any question, from where to locate a new facility to finding areas most at risk.
Building open data portals provides public access to your authoritative data. Branded web apps allow you to share your data in ways that are easy to search and explore. Open Data lets you be part of a worldwide community of geodata content curators. To learn more, visit ArcGIS Open Data online.
Location may be front and center; meanwhile intelligent analysis runs invisibly in the background. Without distracting users from what they are trying to do, these background services allow alerts to be fired off when you need them. For example, when the device (and of course the user holding it) enters a certain area where hazardous materials are located, a “geo-fence” can warn them.
Knowing where workers are and keeping them safe and informed may be the difference between profit and loss—or even life and death. Device location sensors can be plugged into apps to record critical data to your operations. Spatial data also can be gleaned from other data sources, such as Twitter feeds, to help show patterns.
Identifying your location and generating routes and directions help to keep your users moving in the right direction (even onto private roads or inside buildings). With the rich geocoding and routing services provided by Esri or through your own organization’s locators and networks, everyone can get around quickly and efficiently.
To control and plan operations you need to know where things are located and what their current conditions are. Pairing infographic displays with spatial location can be the most effective way to visualize an operation and communicate a management plan. Whether you are in the office or on the go, native and web apps help you make decisions.
Esri Insights is a powerful web app that allows users to visualize demographic information about almost any area in the world. Gain deeper insight into the facts and dominant characteristics of your neighborhood or about your current location.
Esri Maps for Office helps you integrate information from Microsoft Office products like Excel and PowerPoint with your web maps. See your Excel spreadsheet data mapped within the Excel environment and updated automatically as you work on your spreadsheet.
These are out-of-the-box apps that are ready for you to use for your purposes:
Esri has created a marketplace for you to find apps developed by Esri, business partners, and others, all built on top of ArcGIS.
If you know the difference between API and SDK, then head to the ArcGIS for Developers website or to GitHub.
If the out-of-the-box apps don’t do what you need, then why not build one yourself?
On March 22, 2014, a major landslide occurred in a semirural area four miles east of Oso, Washington. A portion of an unstable hill collapsed, sending mud and debris across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, engulfing a neighborhood and killing 43 people.
As part of the Washington State team tasked with helping people understand what actually happened, your job is to create a before-and-after swipe map of the affected landscape.
In this lesson, you’ll add before-and-after imagery layers to an ArcGIS web map. From there, you’ll save the map, and then configure it in the Web AppBuilder to craft a focused web app that utilizes several interesting tools like swipe and measurement.