With billions of smartphones, tablets, laptop computers, and other Internet-connected devices in use worldwide, stand-alone apps have captured the world’s attention. GIS apps in particular have transformed how people think about geography. Every map has an interface—a user experience that brings that particular map into use. These experiences bring GIS to life for all kinds of uses, including the Arctic Elevation Explorer app shown here featuring the latest high-definition terrain measurements.
Apps are lightweight computer programs designed to run on the web, smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. And GIS apps are a special breed; they’re map-centric and spatially aware.
Today apps are ubiquitous. Billions of people worldwide run them in their web browsers, on computers, and on their mobile devices. Creating interesting, geographically aware apps is now easily within your reach. From the intuitive story map apps and Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS® to the app collection for your smartphone and tablet, the technology required to deploy highly effective apps that can extend the reach of GIS to new audiences is transforming the power and reach of your GIS throughout the world.
Apps are often built around targeted workflows that deliver streamlined user experiences. They’re designed to guide users through specific stories or tasks, show just the focused information that is required for that task, and enable the efficient 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 start-up, or looking for innovative ways to share your information in a useful and meaningful way, apps are your pathway to achieving that.
With mobile phones and devices, your GIS maps and apps go with you wherever you go. That’s a big idea. Your phone is a sensor with continuous location awareness coupled with the capacity to take geotagged photos and collect data by location. The integration of the smartphone and GIS carries many implications.
You can use your smartphone to capture geotagged photos and videos in the field, and then use them to tell and share your stories. You can collect data in the field and update your enterprise information.
Your phone can also be used to access enterprise information for your location so that you have deeper knowledge and awareness. You can use maps to navigate and assist you in the field and to perform a variety of work tasks—collect information or perform a survey, and then sync your results with your GIS in the office.
Every online GIS map has an interface—an experience that enables people everywhere to apply GIS. Interestingly, these experiences are actually apps—much like the ones you use on your smartphones every day. This web page describes almost a dozen different things that can be done using GIS apps. As you read through them, think about what it is that you need to do that could fit into one of these patterns. And then consider the possibilities.
You can author a story map (the focus of Chapter 3) fairly easily by choosing from the many Esri Story Maps narrative styles offered in ArcGIS to engage and inspire your audience. Story map apps combine maps with rich narratives and multimedia content that connect with an audience and keep them engaged.
GIS apps offer an exciting and engaging way to publish your geographic information. When you can interact with a live map, communicate back to the GIS of the world, and have the app follow you and alert you when you get certain places, all of a sudden you’ve got something powerful and engaging because the experience is personal and familiar to you.
Anywhere you see organizations and people doing work in the field, there’s a potential for applying GIS to improve coordination of operations and achieve greater efficiencies and cost savings. Here are some examples of how ArcGIS is being used in the field.
Pronatura Noroeste, the largest nonprofit conservation group in Mexico, collects marine field observation data by means of a GIS app, replacing the error-prone use of paper forms in remote marine environments. Nontechnical field inspectors were able to easily configure the smart Survey123 app for ArcGIS with no programming skills. The goals of increased data consistency, efficiency, and accuracy were achieved.
At one of Öland’s ancient ring forts, archaeologists from the Kalmar County Museum of Sweden have used ArcGIS and field GIS tools to make several discoveries and observations about this fort originating from the ancient Roman Empire. This has provided an intriguing view into the past back to the fifth century. You can follow them by video as they explore their site using ArcGIS.
Collector for ArcGIS® and Drone2Map are used in concert to collect high-precision orthophotos for a beach area in Wilmington, North Carolina. Collector was used to capture a network of survey control points with 3 cm accuracy. This network of ground control points was used for georeferencing high-resolution photography and elevation collected from a low-altitude drone mission along the beach.
In today’s world, GIS people think of GIS as the way to create, monitor, and manage their “digital twins,” meaning the computerized version of their everyday world. Using GIS as a geospatial framework for tracking and monitoring your work makes a lot of sense. Digital twins use data from sensors installed on various assets and resources to continuously monitor their status, working condition, and location. Geography provides a universal way to organize and manage operations using these map locations and sensor feeds from the field.
Most organizations stay on top of their operations by monitoring, tracking, and reporting real-time data feeds. For example, many commercial companies track their sales and their competition; epidemiologists track disease; first responders monitor and manage events and incidents; wildlife scientists track animals; farmers sense the state of their crops; and meteorologists monitor and forecast the weather. Meanwhile, all kinds of organizations track and manage their mobile workforces.
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 address almost any question, from where to locate a new facility to finding areas most at risk, and deploy them as apps.
Donegal, Ireland, is a hill walkers’ haven at any time of the year, full of high peaks, panoramic vistas, quiet tracks, and clean air. This 3D web scene depicts highlighted tours and serves as a gateway to the Donegal Map Portal, an extensive collection of GIS data and map resources.
Maps for Office brings the mapping component to Microsoft Excel.
GeoPlanner for ArcGIS is a simple-to-use app that applies sophisticated spatial analysis to support planning scenario comparisons and workflows.
During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I was part of a team sent by Esri to assist our customers among the several different emergency response agencies that were operating at the scene. The situation was somewhat intense, and we were in meetings where a lot of information was flying around—not all of it accurate or timely. Dozens of teams were in the field—to monitor the developing situation, collect data, and conduct environmental surveys. The data collection effort was still largely paper-based, and coordination among all the teams was difficult.
The problem wasn’t a lack of maps or GIS. These agencies were already among our most sophisticated users. The problem was in appropriately sharing and keeping each other updated as new information flowed into the operations center. I witnessed how the teams gathering data out on the water and along the shoreline were struggling early on to collect their information and make it accessible so that it could be acted upon.
Within a week, thanks to a lot of hard work by scores of technologists, emergency response professionals, and staff from British Petroleum, many of the pieces were falling into place, and we saw GIS beginning to be used for mobile data collection and communication. These teams began to share maps, data, videos, and photos, enabling responders to better coordinate with emergency command centers and ensure high levels of situational awareness. As tragic as the event was, I did see how much more effective these teams were by using mobile GIS.
When we returned to Esri, we used this firsthand experience to help guide our product development forward, by applying many of the ideas that came out of those frantic weeks. One idea borne from this initiative became the first generation of our Collector for ArcGIS app.
It’s heartening for me to know that these same agencies are now equipped with Collector for ArcGIS, among a whole suite of new apps that equip response teams with more efficient rescue and recovery capabilities.
You can get usable apps for your own devices and those of your audience from a number of sources. They range from the off-the-shelf apps on popular app stores 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 Online Organizational Account. Mapping apps, such as Explorer for ArcGIS (on the Apple iOS platform), provide a way to manage a collection of data.
At the ArcGIS Marketplace you can obtain apps and data services not only 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 Solution apps support a range of industries such as local and state government, emergency management, utilities, telecommunication, military, and intelligence. You can utilize this rich collection of preconfigured apps to jump-start your enterprise implementations of ArcGIS.
ArcGIS provides developer tools for app builders. Coding your own apps requires more effort, but provides the most flexibility. The two studio-based application tools below provide a developer’s workbench that enables you to compose your own apps and minimize the need to write a lot of your own code.
In 2009, the US Geological Survey (USGS) 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 understanding of change 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 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 app 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:
These out-of-the-box apps are ready for you to use for your needs:
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, head to the ArcGIS Developers website or GitHub.
If the out-of-the-box apps don’t do what you need, why not build one yourself?
The City of San Diego, like all big cities, relies on fire hydrants to help put out fires, keeping people and property safe. To ensure that the hydrants work when they are needed, the San Diego Fire Department regularly inspects them, but until recently keeping track of this work has been tedious, paper-based activity.
In this exercise, you’ll help improve the system of inspections using GIS technology. Acting as a few different members of the City of San Diego and the San Diego Fire Department, you’ll create and manage hydrant inspection assignments as well as completing that work in the field. Your goal is to make sure the fire hydrants around the convention center are all inspected before the end of summer.
Your fire captain has assigned you some hydrant inspections, so you must make sure the hydrants will work when you need them. Your fire captain is using a Workforce project to manage your work, and you’ll use the mobile app to view and complete your assignments. Along the way, you’ll use Navigator to route to the hydrants you must inspect.