So, you think you need an app for that?
By Chad Belisle on 2019-05-20 18:00
Ok picture this, you're a small or large business, you might even just be an individual, it doesn't really matter, but you're interested in geographic information systems (GIS) and you're also interested in solving problems as cheap as can be. Whether you need to collect data, share information or do some real time geoprocessing, there is probably an app for your purpose. In the GIS world ESRI reigns supreme and has many small apps to handle most situations. But what if you didn't want to pay the big bucks for ESRI's beautiful apps? Well you might need to access another supplier's apps or create your own custom micro app!
I think a lot of people think apps are incredibly difficult to create and you need a computer science degree or to be some sort of technical wizard; they aren't wrong, you certainly can't make an app using Microsoft Word and a pocketful of hope. It does take some educational dedication, interest, skill and of course some of that pure computer magic to build a functional app. What people don't realize is you can build apps with little or no programming needed for all sorts of purposes. Some of those computer science wizards created easy to use platforms where wizards in training can go and create apps all on their own; an app to create an app, what an app-ceptional idea! Some of these platforms cost money, some are free to use, some are open-source and cost money, and some are open-source and free to use.
I'd like to talk about the open-source and free to use options that are available, because free just makes sense.
"But wait, Chad didn't you say I could create an app with little or no coding at all?"
Yes, I did. However, this really depends on what your needs are.
If you are looking to just have an app to display interactive information on a map, I recommend creating a map using Mapbox Studio and then downloading the Mapbox Studio Preview app to view your app on a mobile device. If you are a small business there is a very generous free tier which allows 25,000 users the ability to connect a month for free.
If you need an app to collect data, I would suggest using one of the many free apps that does this already.
If you are looking for a little more of a snazzy platform with geoprocessing capabilities you may need to invest in learning SOME coding skills. There is quite a bit of documentation online to help you get you started and loads of free resources to learn from.
- Mapbox GL JS and Turf.js -- I think this is a winning combination and this tutorial will help you create your first geospatial web app!
- Leaflet and Turf.js -- I think this is also a great combination for creating web apps. Check out both of the tutorials on how to get started.
Although these are just some of the free options available, you can see that it is entirely possible to either create your own app or utilize pre-existing apps for free. This could save your business some dollars! Just remember that free doesn't always mean free. A lot of work goes into creating these apps and platforms and if you have the ability consider donating to the cause or upgrading to their paid platforms.