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Smartphones’ Impact on the GIS Industry: 7 Experts Weigh In

As of this year, five billion people – two-thirds of the world’s population – now have a mobile phone connection. In 2007, when smartphones came on the market, that number was only two billion. Suffice it to say, smartphones, and mobility, have become a way of life.

The rapid proliferation of smartphones over the past 10 years has had a profound impact on the GIS industry. The ability to access all kinds of data – including location data – from the palm of our hands at any given time or place has become an essential part of everyday life for businesses and consumers alike.

How are companies leveraging mobility in their GIS strategy to get location-based data in front of their users when and where they need it most? We asked seven GIS experts to weigh in:

Chris Tucker, Chairman of the American Geographical Society and Founder of MapStory | @PLANETucker

Mobile responsive location apps are the new expectation of everyone. Literally, everyone. All of us have supercomputers sitting in the palms of our hands, with broadband network connections. They are with us every moment of our lives, and when we learn about something new, or decide that we need to learn about something new, we reach for them to get our answers. In order for location apps to be relevant, they need to be built from the ground up to be mobile-responsive.

I know that this is not every developer’s first impulse. And, I know that not all application functions lend themselves to mobile form factors. Nonetheless, every location company must build for mobile responsiveness first, and seamlessly guide users to more productive computing interfaces if the task demands more than a palm-sized UI/UX.

Glenn Letham, Co-founder of GISUser | @gletham

The smartphone has been a huge driver of the awareness of location tech, in addition to driving innovation and opportunity. In this world of being constantly connected, users have the expectation of immediate updates and most of the applications that we use also have some level of location-aware functionality and technology in use. Google Maps can take much of the credit for making maps “cool,” but it also has driven location to become mainstream. With billions of GPS-enabled smartphones in use around the world, location is a key driver of application usability, particularly in a world where people use their smartphone mainly to answer “what?” and “where?”

Take Uber, for example – the killer aspect of Uber is location. The mobile app that the user depends on locates a ride, calculates a route, the fare, time of arrival and more. On the flip side, the driver app is map-based and again, entirely driven by location parameters. It really is amazing.

Another example of technology that has matured thanks to mobile and location tech is the weather app, most notably Accuweather. We now have access to real-time weather data, warnings, and other information that tells us what to expect down to a minute.

The smartphone and location awareness has led to the consumer demanding much more from their applications, and the industry is responding with amazing, breakthrough technology. Location is indeed driving opportunity.

Thierry Gregorius, Principal Strategic Consultant at Exprodat | @Thierry_G

It’s easy to take for granted how far GIS technology has come in the last 10 years. In 2007, you had a choice between desktop-based GIS that ate all your CPU and memory, and web-based GIS that – despite the emergence of service-oriented architecture – was still so slow and clunky that sometimes you were better off sending people maps on USB sticks. Today, with cloud computing, GIS runs seamlessly across desktop, web and mobile platforms, on literally any device. This is a major breakthrough that removes duplication of effort and vastly streamlines data capture, management and visualisation. Also, mobile apps can now be created with a few clicks using pre-configured templates, enabling workflows to be “app-ified” one use case at a time – rather than relying on bloated portals. With this trend apps are become disposable, enabling companies to focus efforts on their true assets: data.

Barbaree Duke, Managing Editor of Directions Magazine | @barbareeduke

While we aren’t making GIS software at Directions Magazine, we are keenly aware of our mobile geospatial audience. When we recently updated our website, we designed from a device perspective first. At least 25 percent of our geospatial audience reads our online magazine from a mobile device. Our webinar software also includes an app that allows folks flexibility. We recognize the strong need to be easy to consume wherever folks are reading or watching. Regardless of how you want to read our articles or attend our events, Directions Magazine will meet you where you are to deliver insights on location.

Susan Smith, Editor of GISCafe | @editorgisaeccaf

As a result of the huge amount of data generated via mobile devices, social media, sensors, and transactions, Gartner forecasts that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2017 – up 31 percent from 2016 – and will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. This sets the stage for the need for powerful location tools for both business and government going forward.

There are many ways this is accomplished. As GIS is now used in retail and real estate, customers can download apps that include their locations, so they can be pinged when they’re near a store that might have what they’re looking for, for example. Apps for the smartphone are also used in construction out in the field for alerting users about places to work or dig, or where repairs may need to be done. I think this strategy will expand as time goes on, as more uses for location based data become apparent.

Perry A. Trunick, Editor of Point of Beginning Magazine | @POBMag

Smartphones are a growing field tool for land surveyors and geospatial professionals.  Along with tablets, they are becoming indispensable.

Anthony Calamito, Chief Geospatial Officer of Boundless | @GeoCalamito

Let’s face it…we rarely go anywhere without our phones, so companies certainly benefit from apps that push their solutions out to those devices.  It’s a way to stay constantly connected to users no matter where they go. But more importantly, those companies use those phones as sensors to collect information as well. Smartphones provide the advantage of not only a GPS chip, but an accelerometer, cellular, WiFi and Bluetooth radios, NFC and biometric sensors.  These allow companies to feed valuable information about customers patterns of life such as frequently visited locations, spending habits, preferred travel methods, and hobbies. For example, Google uses the anonymized information from phone locations and speed of travel to provide the traffic layer in their Google Maps app. Uber uses its pickup/dropoff location information to understand where and when people visit most often in cities. While getting the app in front of customers via their mobile device is important, companies also strongly value the information they can collect from them just as much.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on how smartphones are impacting companies’ GIS strategies? Tell us your thoughts, experiences, and predictions on Twitter @boundlessgeo!

John Opdycke

VP of Marketing

John is the VP of Marketing for Boundless and has more than 25 years of experience marketing B2B software and services to companies large and small across multiple industries. He received his B.S. in Public Relations from The Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. When John’s not working to support the Boundless team to make meaningful connections with community members, prospects, partners and customers, he spends time with his wife Monica trying to keep track of their four children.