iPad for GIS usage – a first look at some capabilities

Have quite a few folks at work asking about using these in the field for GIS activities.  Here’s a summary of what I’ve been able to tell them so far.

•    ArcMap:  ESRI (the ArcMap vendor) has published an app for iOS (iPad and/or iPhone).  As soon as we get the test units, I plan to work with one of the GIS guys here at Beacon to work out how to make a connection to an ArcGIS server.   The iPad app is free, and I have it loaded on my personal iPad.  So far, I don’t believe the iPad ArcGIS client requires a license (but we’ll confirm that soon).
o    Note: the current ESRI ArcGIS doesn’t have map editing tools.  However, there is an alternate application (called GISRoam) which does enable capturing GPS Shape files and making edits on the iPad.  It’s likely that ESRI will have an update in the works which adds more features.
o    Note #2:  The GPS chip in the iPad is roughly equivalent to a Garmin Nuvi in terms of accuracy and signal tracking.  So it will be a long time before an iPad can really compete with a “Trimble ArcGIS Mobile” unit for data capture and on board GIS editing.  Personnally, I’m hoping for a Bluetooth accessory/interface that enables use of an external receiver so that the iPads would be more useful for data capture at Archeological sites and other in-the-field uses.
•    GoogleEarth:  There’s a native GoogleEarth app for the iPads.  At this time, I don’t see an option to load GoogleEarth within ESRI’s ArcGIS client.  However, the ESRI iPad app can load maps from any number of sources including Bing, OpenStreetMap, USGS, NOAA, etc.,  so it may be a matter of fiddling with options to get Google Earth maps into it ArcGIS (if that’s actually needed).
•    Take Picture:  The iPad can’t take pictures, but we’re ordering them with the camera connection kit so that they can load pictures from cards or usb camera connections.
•    Upload local tax information:  We need more details about this requirement.  What’s the source/format of the tax data.  Are we tagging tax information it to map records?  Uploading coordinate data into a tax application?  Or something else entirely?
•    Sketch or Draw and Measure GPS:  1st question here is, do we have a firm requirement for a single app that can do both (ie., Sketch and MeasureGPS)?  Or would a standalone sketch/draw application have some usefulness?
o    If these can be treated separately for now; there are several sketchpad type application available.  So far I do not know of any GPS enabled drawing apps which can capture/import a track-log file and then annotate/edit the resulting shapefiles.
o    The GISRoam application does have the ability to capture new shapefiles and edit some attributes, but my skills in this area are a bit limited.  So far, I’ve only done some preliminary tests where I’ve captured new shapefiles and made simple calculations like length and area.
o    The GISRoam application also has the ability to download a shapefile from a server, make edits, and then upload back to the server.  Currently the app uses a subscription server for this feature and I don’t know if/when it can make a direct connection to an ArcGIS server.  Will test/investigate this further when we get the initial testing units.

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