Future Proofing Your Next GIS App With Javascript

We build a lot of Geographic Information System (GIS) apps for our clients. GIS apps, like all apps, have no value if users are unable to interact with the software. But I am not here to discuss the many rules and nuances of proper UI design, rather, to discuss the shift in programming we must take in order to ensure that our GIS apps live to see the future.

That future is mobile. More Smartphones are being shipped than Desktop PCs and Notebook PCs combined! According to Online Marketing Trends, the trend is growing. It should be no surprise then that the number of people accessing the web from mobile devices is growing drastically.

Javascript over Flash and Silverlight

Face it, Javascript is the programming language of the web. Browsers have had built in Javascript engines since the early days of Netscape 2.0 and IE3. While proprietary software like Flash and Silverlight have had their moments to shine, they now sit in the shadow of HTML5.

Why? Because Flash and Silverlight have limited to NO support on mobile devices. Apple, which controls over 60% of mobile based web access, does not support either (itportal.com)! Where as ALL web browsers support Javascript. If mobile support is a null issue for your next GIS project due to desktop specific requirements, then continue "Flash-Lighting" on your marry way (I would like to take a moment to coin the term "Flash-Lighting").

From my experience, however, developers prefer programs like Adobe Flex (which requires the Flash plugin to play) because of the ease at which they can drop in stylish buttons with cool affects; not due to desktop specific requirements. That reasoning may be part of another, possibly larger, problem: a lack of a UI Designers.

Javascript UI Libraries

If you are worried about the extra time spent on design, or just do not have the resources, check out jqueryui.com for a simple WYSIWYG-style UI builder. Are you building your GIS app on top of ESRI software? Then check out ESRI's native Javascript API that supports Dojo. Dojo has excellent UI components at dojotoolkit.org.

Both of these libraires offer stylish, customizable UI components to make your life easier. Remember, there is no Flash/Silverlight button or affect (appropriate for a GIS app) that cannot be replicated using HTML and Javascript. Just look at all the amazing things being demoed at the Mozilla Developer Network.

What Next?

Now is the time to develop your next GIS app using HTML and Javascript. We recently finished a GIS app for the commercial real estate company Vizzda. Take a look at what we were able to achieve with HTML and Javascript here.

The ISSR is here to solve all your GIS and Web needs, whether it be UI design, or a full fledge GIS app.