ArcGIS Companion - What’s the point?

08-01-2018 11:34 AM
Regular Contributor

So, I was at the UC and saw the Companion app. In fact, I’d heard about it at the 2017 UC and talked with some Esri folks who were going through Alpha with it. Anyway, I’ve read the blog post, understand the features. It’s cool.

What I don’t understand fully, is why? Everything the Companion app does, you can do through the browser in ArcGIS Online. I think the only thing I’ve latched onto so far that a browser wont natively support is biometric authentication.In which case, fine I guess but a whole native app for that? Wouldn’t it be better to just give the ArcGIS Online site a better mobile responsive design?

I really don’t mean for this to come off as negative. I’m just trying to understand the purpose dedicated native mobile app. Perhaps a public roadmap that layer out some of the planned features and capabilities would help?

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4 Replies
Occasional Contributor III

It is great that there is now a way to easily and quickly do administrative tasks on a mobile device when away from a desktop computer. However, I agree with John's point that it seems like it would have made more sense to give ArcGIS Online a responsive web design, which seems to be fairly common these days, than to create and maintain a new native app.

What would be really cool, and leading the way, would be to give all of ArcGIS Online a responsive web design and enable progressive web app (PWA) functionality where appropriate. From what I understand, PWA support would even open up the possibility of bio-metric authentication for the ArcGIS Online website.

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Esri Contributor

Great question. It reminded me of a meeting we had earlier in the year when the idea of the app was floated and discussed. In fact these are the questions any product team go through before creating a product or an app or a new feature as to why? Do we need one more of the same? Cant we take what we already have and also ask it to do xyz etc.. 

ArcGIS Online and Enterprise systems are very popular and has lot of users coming from all walks of life,  experiences and technical backgrounds. They can no longer be singled out to be just made up of one type of users for example Analysts. Consider the newer generation Z workforce who have in some ways skipped the desktop browser completely. Anyone who has a account with the ArcGIS system should have the ability to access and use it anywhere they want on any device (not just limited browsers). Though the support for ArcGIS website is getting better on mobile with every release, its still a lot of work to take all the same features people love on the full website and make it work really well on a real mobile device which has differences in browsers and limitations on storage or network or access to native hardware. With the penetration of smart phones and tablets and other hand held devices, as per the popular statistics, the use of mobile browser as the first choice on these types of devices has not seen great adoption. I am now wondering when is the last time I visited the twitter/linkedin mobile responsive website on my phone (which by the way has an excellent mobile web experience). The other aspect to consider is just the expectation of end users. Every ArcGIS user owns at least one smart phone/device if not more, of his/her own choice and is exposed to all the wonderful world of app stores and native apps. They love this pattern and expect businesses/company to have a full mobile presence. Good examples are banking apps, insurance apps etc. We feel the need for a true mobile based solution that is focused, supports common workflows and has all the aspects of ease of use and access. 
This is similar to any business today which offers both a solid web browser experience and also equally good if not better mobile app experiences including Google search/photos/drive, Slack, Twitter, Box, LinkedIn etc.. There is also a very common pattern in these apps i.e. in most cases the full browser experience always offers more features/functionalities and is also the first to get new things. Corresponding mobile apps are much more focused, simple and task oriented. However its important to note that the usage and user experiences patterns are very different. Also interesting is the fact that there seems to be never a need for full parity between the full blown website to the native app as long as the tasks/workflows can be completed in a delightful manner. Another common pattern is that most of these apps require login, expect apps to remember you next time, take advantage of any mobile features or hardware like camera, notifications, fingerprint, security etc... so the same user has choice to use browser or mobile app but when it comes to mobile app their expectations are not the same. The user chooses one over the other depending on various factors such as availability to device/computer, familiarity, experience, urgency, preference to name a few. Users are very familiar with using browser based version when working on their laptops or desktops and switch to a mobile app when on the device or tablet. 
The aim of the ArcGIS Companion mobile app is not to replace ArcGIS web experience but to complement it and also provide a good alternative choice to mobile web which continue to evolve. The app will ever remain a subset of all things ArcGIS web can do but provides good value to each of the user types it supports such as Viewers, Authors and Admins. Its important Esri develops both native and Web apps, so as to widen the reach of access, while also provide a good overall user experience.
Good feedback on publishing a roadmap for planned or upcoming features before its released. We will work on that for sure. Since you asked (and if you have not yet seen it) here is a link to all the feature functionality of Companion app at v1.0 . Version v1.1 is coming out very soon in a couple of weeks so expect blog posts listing new features and enhancements added. 
Regular Contributor

Thanks for the informative reply Sathya. A think a roadmap or list of planned features, capabilities or differentiators would be very helpful for those of us considering bringing the Companion app into our Enterprise. I'd much rather start early and get users accustomed to the general UX, but I'd need to know what's planned and on the roadmap in order to assess the value of bringing it on board.

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Occasional Contributor

I think it's worth it just for the biometric authentication. I hope this is coming in the other apps! Enterprise authentication in the apps is painful. It is very confusing for users. I also like having access to multiple things in one place (and I am not gen Z).

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