Working with Collector for ArcGIS without syncing to ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS.

Collector for ArcGIS is a great piece of kit to mobilise employees and allow them to collect data while in the field. Being able to use Collector for ArcGIS offline has meant that field work can be done anywhere and it’s quicker than using a pen and paper! 

The common workflow is to synchronise data via a feature service, in ArcGIS Online or Portal, but if this isn't practical for you don't despair! Today we’re going to look at how we can use Collector for ArcGIS offline in the field and then bring the data collected back into your organisation without syncing it to ArcGIS Online.

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Running Flex apps on iPhone/iPad and Android

The ArcGIS web APIs are a powerful way to create mapping applications using JavaScript, Flex or Silverlight. However, many mobile devices do not support Flex or Silverlight, and JavaScript apps have drawbacks: they don't always behave the same way across different browsers, they do not work well without an active network connection, and they generally have less functionality than Flex or Silverlight apps (simpler UI, inability to access as much hardware, etc).

Of course, mobile technologies evolve rapidly, and it's likely that these criticisms of JavaScript will seem outdated and unfair before very long. Still, we were excited earlier this year when Adobe released Flash Builder 4.5, a development tool that allows cross-platform Flex apps, including GIS apps built with Esri's ArcGIS API for Flex, to be deployed to iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), Android devices (phones and tablets), and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.

On Android and BlackBerry PlayBook, Flex mobile apps run on AIR, a runtime developed by Adobe. AIR is pre-installed on PlayBook, and can be downloaded for free on Android. Since iOS apps distributed through the Apple App Store are not permitted to execute on third-party runtimes, Flex apps for iOS are normally compiled to native ARM assembly so they can be executed directly on the CPU.

The ArcGIS API for Flex 2.4 includes two mobile Flex samples to help developers get started. Since the API is now capable of recognising multi-touch gestures, Flex is a viable way to develop cross-platform mobile GIS apps. Quite a few of the Flex API code samples originally designed for the web can also be compiled without modification and run on mobile devices. For example, the following screenshot shows the Switching Basemaps web sample running on an iPhone 4. However, although the app may work without modification, sometimes the UI should be redesigned to take into account a smaller screen or lack of a physical keyboard.

AIR can access the GPS, accelerometer, microphone and camera on most mobile devices, although not the gyroscope or compass, so if you need these then you will have to use native code (i.e. Objective-C for iOS, Java for Android). The new AIR 3 runtime has support for Native Extensions, which allows native code modules to be linked with Flex apps.

Free ArcGIS apps written using Flex include MuniTracker, a public transport information app for San Francisco, and ArcGIS Viewer, a lightweight GIS viewer modelled on the ArcGIS Viewer for Flex, although it uses a different codebase because iOS devices do not support apps with a modular architecture like the Flex Viewer. You can download these apps through the App Store/Android Market. Flex apps seem to run quite well on mobile platforms, but runtime performance and battery use need to be considered. For example, MuniTracker disables animated transitions when a user zooms in and out on the map in order to conserve resources, although this behaviour may look a bit odd to users who are accustomed to seeing smooth zoom-level transitions.

More information about designing, building and deploying Flex mobile apps can be found in this guide: Developing Mobile Applications with Adobe Flex and Adobe Flash Builder.

ArcGIS Mobile

Recently one of my colleagues in our team asked me how he could use ArcGIS Mobile on his desktop without  a server licence. This got me looking for information on how this can be done. One of the outcomes of my research was a document that details my findings, as well as how a new user to ArcGIS could go about setting up a Mobile project and start working straight away.

I found that it was quite hard to figure out a way of getting started quickly. At the end of the day, how many people want to spend all their time scratching their heads? Not too many i would imagine. This document gives a very concise description of how to get started.

I hope other people find it as useful as i did in putting it together (and my collegue, who is no doubt much happier now!)