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iOS Map Making Software

Started by Boyd, December 08, 2015, 04:12:05 PM

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I just got a big iPhone 6s Plus and am interested in using it to create/edit shapefiles. The gis-kit/gis-pro apps look very interesting, but are rather expensive - $100 for the kit or $300 for the pro version.

Both versions can import shapefiles but  unfortunately, you need the pro version to export shapefiles. That's too much for me. So looking around a bit more, I found igis, which is a free app.

Just getting started playing with this, but it looks good. To use raster imagery, you need to convert it to a tileset with the free MapTiler program

The free version is limited to images no larger than 10000 x 10000 pixels and there are various paid versions with different capabilities. It runs on windows, macosx and linux. I exported a geotiff 1 foot per pixel aerial image from Globalmapper as a test. After converting with Maptiler, I had no problem importing it into igis via iTunes.

I then exported a shapefile containing buildings (polygons) from Globalmapper and had no problem importing it in igis using iTunes file transfer. You can also use dropbox or e-mail to transfer files in both directions.

I was able to create a new polygon of a building in igis, then export the shapefile back to my computer using iTunes. Opened the file in Globalmapper and my new building was there as expected. Creating polygons with their user interface was a little shaky on the first try, but practice should help. A stylus might also help, but not sure what would be compatible with the iPhone.

So it actually works, and it's free. :) There are a lot of other capabilities that I will explore soon. There's a pro version that adds some additional features, and the price looks reasonable - $5/month or $20/year.

Anyone else using iOS to make maps? What else is available?


Here's another app that looks interesting:

Cost is $80. Seems to have a lot of nice features, imports/exports shapefiles, can directly use raster imagery in common formats like geoTIFF. Also nice that you can use a custom WMS server, since I have been playing with a local one.

Same company also makes a MacOSX GIS app that I have looked at before, it appears to be very powerful but costs $500 (there is a free trial version however).

I was also wondering whether the ArcGIS iOS app might be an option. Unfortunately, looks like I'm too late to the party though.  ;)

QuoteThe ArcGIS app will be retired from the App Stores (Google, Apple, Windows and Amazon) in 2016.


Playing with iGIS some more.... I exported part of a complex map I'm working on that uses polygons to mimic aerial imagery. I exported one USGS 7.5 minute 24k quad that consists of about 11,000 polygons on two layers.

iGIS can assign polygon colors based on an attribute, which was easy for me to accomplish using the relational database I developed for making this map. There are two shapefile layers, one contains polygons representing landcover and the other contains polygons for roads, streams and buildings.

I had some problems with iGIS crashing initially, but was finally able to get it to work. It does a great job of rendering - see the screenshots from Globalmapper and iGIS below. But performance is very sluggish with this amount of data...

Globalmapper screenshot

iGIS screenshot


FWIW, this is my garmin version of the same map in Basecamp. One nice thing about maps that only consist of polygons is that they look the same across different platforms. :)


Here's a note for anyone who wants to play with iGIS. This article from 2011 explains how to use MapTiler to create raster imagery in the correct format.

It appears that MapTiler was an open source project as of this writing, but now is a commercial product. The free version I used watermarks everything and is also limited to 10,000 x 10,000 pixels. And the user interface is different from what is shown in that article. The upgrade to the full version of Maptiler that supports larger images costs $150, kind of a deal breaker since you can get an iOS GIS app that natively uses common raster formats for $80.

But you can still download the 2011 open source version shown in that article from It worked perfectly with my test file, although rendering was slower than the new version.


I guess nobody else is interested in this, but I'll update this thread anyway... maybe it will help someone in the future. Here's what I've learned so far about making maps on my iPhone 6s Plus

Jot Dash Stylus
Bare fingers are not the ideal tool for precise drawing on a small screen, so I got a Jot Dash on Amazon.

It works great! I don't quite understand how it works, but it has an internal battery and USB charger. If the power button is off, the stylus doesn't work. But it isn't bluetooth or a radio signal. Apparently there's some kind of electrical charge at the tip that allows it to be recognized.

For a free app, this is really very cool. No problems importing/exporting shapefiles. And I found a way around using the MapTiler software to create compatible raster imagery. In GlobalMapper I'm using "Export Web Format..." and choosing the "OSM Tiles" option. After the export finishes,  I just change the name of the HTML file to "googlemaps.html", which is the name of the file that MapTiler creates". Then just zip the whole folder and drag it to iGIS in iTunes.

This opens up fine and does not seem to have the problems I was experiencing with MapTiler. If the raster image is too large, that does cause a problem though. I had issues with freezing and incomplete screen updates with a 500MB raster image that consisted of about 8,000 tiles. A 170MB image with 500 tiles works fine though.

I did the $5 in-app purchase to upgrade for one month of the iGIS pro subscription. I don't know, it doesn't seem to add a whole lot of value. For $5 (or $20/year) you get a measuring tool, the ability to have labels display, a few different line/point/polygon styles, a map scale bar, search and display of GPS accuracy. The different feature styles are not very attractive and can only be applied to whole vector layers, not individual objects. The only one of these features that I find especially useful is the map scale.

So, considering that the basic app is free, it really raises the bar for what you should expect from the other expensive apps.

This app costs $80 and has not been updated since 2014. I was concerned as to how well it would work under iOS 9 and the 6s+. So I wrote the developer and immediately got a helpdesk autoresponse with a ticket number. A couple hours later I got a nice response from one of the developers who said they were definitely still supporting the app and were working on an update. He also invited me to join the beta test group. So within a few hours of contacting them, I had a (free!) beta version to play with. Great service, very impressed!  8)

There are a few issues regarding how things scale to the very high resolution screen on the 6s+, but they're more of an annoyance than a "problem". I found it very stable with few crashes. The really nice feature of CartoMobile is the ability to directly use GeoTIFF files without turning them into tilesets. I tried some pretty big ones, around 700MB I think, and they worked but were sluggish. Smaller images worked better. Overall I'd say the interface is a little smoother than iGIS when dragging around a raster image.

Shapefile import/export is fine. You can only have a single style for each vector layer however. I think iGIS is superior in this regard, as you can store hex color values in a shape attribute, then use that attribute to control the color on a feature-by-feature level. I wish CartoMobile allowed this.

This will also be a very nice app once they get the bugs ironed out. But possibly a little hard to justify the $80 price just for the ability to import geoTIFF when iGIS is free.

These apps have a much richer feature set. There are some nice videos on Youtube that showcase this. For example

But looking at the reviews on the app store, they were really positive until 2014, at which point people said it was a great app but crashed all the time on iOS 8. The only new review, from Oct 2015, was very critical. That's not good when the basic version is $100 and the pro version is $300.

I wrote the developer and got a response within 24 hours. They addressed the iOS 8 issues with a couple updates last summer but it has not been tested on iOS 9 so he couldn't offer any insights into how stable it would be. He conceded that it was badly in need of an update but was frank in saying their development team is small and overworked, so I shouldn't expect an update anytime soon. I asked what recourse I'd have if I bought it and found it unusable. He said they would do their best to help resolve any issues, and I could request a refund from Apple if I wasn't satisfied.

So I'm going to think about this a bit. It really has a lot of nice features not available in the other apps.

Map Editor
This is a curious one. Only $2 so I figured it was worth a try. The developer claims "#1 Top Paid iPad Navigation App in Japan and several other countries." :)

Have only tried it once and still not completely sure how everything works. Some functions bring up dialog boxes in Japanese. But it has a few powerful features - you can modify the geometry of vector objects and move them around. These seem like basic functions of any GIS app, however neither iGIS nor CartoMobile can do this (GIS Pro can though).

I created a few features and exported them as a .kml file. It opened up in Globalmapper with no problem. Not sure how much I'll use this, but it's kind of an interesting app.

Garmin GLO
I got this a couple years ago and it works great. Absolutely no problems pairing and using it with the phone. I am just disappointed that you have to "take it on faith" that the GLO is actually providing data since iOS gives you no clue aside from showing it paired in the bluetooth menu. There's no way to see a satellite screen or any other data directly from the GLO. I got a couple free apps - GPS Status and GPS Data that show a few things, but they're limited to the scant info that iOS provides them.

Recording tracks in the Galileo app, the tracklog shows about 6 position updates per second (the GLO can provide up to 10/sec). I got a belt clip for the GLO and have been attaching it to my hat for an unobstructed signal while walking around. Also rigged a pole I can clip it to and plant in the ground for collecting static points.

iPhone 6s Plus
Really happy with this phone as a handheld GPS replacement. Am using an Otterbox Defender case that comes with a holster/belt clip. Dropped the phone in the mud in the swamp once, so the case is earning its keep. ;) When you put this big phone in that case, it definitely says "tablet", but I actually like that. For "everyday" use, I pop the phone out of the Otterbox (which is pretty quick once you get the hang of it).

With all the different GPS and GIS apps, it opens up lots of possibilities that aren't available on a Garmin handheld. The screen is beautiful and battery life seems good. I was out continuously running the screen at high brightness and receiving data from the GLO for about 3 hours. Didn't even use half the battery for that.


Thanks, Boyd.  If I ever get into iOS maps, this will be a fine place to start.


Cool. But just to be clear, these programs aren't specifically for the purpose of making maps for iOS. Since they support the shapefile format, they can be used as part of a workflow to make Garmin or any other kind of map.

It interests me as a mobile platform to work on maps at times when I don't have a "real" computer available. I have been called for jury duty next month and that usually involves lots of sitting around and waiting. I'd rather not carry a laptop, so I plan to use these apps to trace features from raster imagery and use them on several maps I'm working on, including a Garmin topo :)



Thanks! Funny how you learn odd little tidbits along the way. Turns out that the iGIS software natively uses Google's EPSG:900913 coordinate system for raster imagery. I wasn't familiar with that and looked it up. Turns out 900913 isn't a real ESPG code.... it's the name GOOGLE "spelled" with numbers.  ;D

In Globalmapper you can set this in the projection configuration dialog by choosing Mercator projection and Google Maps datum. I tried this with the "Export Web format" command in Globalmapper to create a 500MB raster image. It seems to work better in iGIS than my Geographic/WGS84 (ESPG:4326) tilesets, but I need to do more testing.