For many field users of Apple and Android mobile devices, Avenza Maps (formerly PDF Maps) is an essential application. If I could only have one application for field use in the forest industry it would be this one.
I have used Avenza Maps since 2011 and at $50 per year it was truly a great value. The app quickly became an essential field tool for navigation, viewing spatial information and capturing simple spatial data as points and lines. Although I would have liked more GIS functionality, I was willing to accept what the app offered, as it is very easy to use and provided most of what I needed:
- Ability to view geospatial PDFs and GeoPDFs prepared with ArcGIS or downloaded from the Avenza Map Store
- Display my current location on the map using GPS
- Measure distance and area
- Record points and lines to capture spatial data
- Plot geo-tagged photos on the map
- Create custom attributes to make the capture of data associated with points and lines efficient and consistent
Some of the functionality that I would have liked to have is now available with an in-app purchase of the Pro subscription – the license you get for free is only for recreational use and will only allow you to import up to three maps at a time. Unlocking the app to allow the import of an unlimited number of map imports costs $30/year (there is no limit on Map Store maps), however it’s still only for enthusiasts and recreational use only.
The Pro subscription, suitable for commercial and professional use, costs $130/year to purchase in-app, with lower prices available if you contact Avenza directly. The more devices you subscribe, the lower the price per device and a subscription management system lets you deploy, manage and revoke subscriptions to users. The significant functionality addition with Pro is the ability to import and export point and line shapefiles. In the future, Avenza will be adding more features – such as the ability to import and export shapefile polygons.
For many field users the import and export of shapefiles will be of great value. It has the potential to make the movement of data to and from corporate GIS much easier. However, without the ability to control allowable attribute values associated with features across all devices, the shapefiles may be of limited value. By “control” I mean the ability to ensure that attribute data captured matches the allowable values in the corporate GIS. Without this control, Shapefiles will still be of value as a way to push data out to devices for viewing.
If Avenza adds the ability to control and manage attributes across corporate devices, it will be well worth the $130 price. However, not all professional users need this additional functionality – for many it would be enough to make the in-app purchase to unlock the import of multiple maps available for professional use. I have heard the same from other professional field users who don’t need to import and export shapefiles.
I will continue to use Avenza Maps. However, I will be looking to Avenza to make some significant improvements to how the shapefile attribute data is managed in order to ensure that only allowable attribute values, that match the corporate data values, can be captured on mobile devices.
This will make Avenza Maps an even better tool for field users.