Survey123, Collector and GeoForm (a quick comparison)

09-04-2015 01:00 AM
Esri Notable Contributor
80 38 70.7K

[Last updated October 5 ,2019]

A pretty common question, so we thought we would clarify this a bit. Lets start with a simple table:

Survey123 for ArcGIS
Collector for ArcGISGeoForm
Data collection styleForm CentricMap CentricForm Centric
Supports capturing new dataYes (points, lines, polygons)

Yes (points, lines, polygons)

Yes (points only)
Supports editing existing dataYesYesNo
Supports deleting existing dataNoYesNo
Smart formsYes (xForms)NoNo
Supports reverse geocodingYesNoNo
Works offlineYesYesYes*
Can work with versioned geodatabase layersNoYesYes
Can work with related recordsYesYesNo
Supports external GNSS receiversYesYesNo
Supports integration with SpikeYesNoNo
Supports integration via webhooksYesNoNo
Supports anonymous accessYesNoYes

iOS, Android, Windows (7,8,10), Mac, Linux, Web

iOS, Android

And Windows 10 with Classic

Technical SupportEsri & CommunityEsri & CommunityEsri & Community
Developer opportunitiesYesNoYes

Lets get into the details:

  • Form centric vs Map centric: Survey123 for ArcGIS is a form centric data collection app. Just like GeoForms it is all about questions! With Survey123 and GeoForms you can certainly capture geographic information, but geo is just one more question in the questionnaire, and not the center of everything. That is why we call them form-centric.  Collector for ArcGIS is a map centric app: it opens maps that you can use to capture geographic information. Of course, with Collector you can also capture attributes associated with those features, but the map comes first and that is where the app excels, the form capabilities are secondary.
  • Supports editing: Survey123 and Collector can edit existing features. This is critical for inspection workflows were a particular asset is visited again and again. GeoForm is just about capturing new data. One relevant limitation in terms of editing is attachments. Collector is the only Esri mobile app that supports editing of attachments in GIS Features.
  • Supports deleting existing data: Simple concept. Only Collector can do that.
  • Smart Forms: Forms in Survey123 for ArcGIS can be quite sophisticated. In fact, if you need to convert a paper form into a digital one Survey123 brings the most features for you. Collector for ArcGIS and GeoForm allow you to edit attributes but the rules you can apply to a form are quite simple (choice lists and basic question types).  Skipping questions, applying expressions to pre-calculate and validate responses, presenting the form in different languages, gridded layouts, multiple pages, capturing signatures, etc. are some of these unique smart form features in Survey123.  Survey123 uses the XLSForm specification to bring forms to life.
  • Supports reverse geocoding: Reverse geocoding automatically calculates the closes address or closest asset ID based on the current location of your device. Using reverse geocode you save users from having to type a ZIP Code, City or entire address if they already have defined a location in the map.
  • Offline: Survey123 and Collector can work while disconnected from the network and sync any changes when online. Offline capabilities are also supported in GeoForm, as long as you never close your browser.  The offline capabilities in GeoForm work reasonably well when you have spotty connectivity, but Survey123 and Collector are much more reliable for offline use.  When working with Collector, you must explicitly enable your map projects for offline use. In the case of Survey123, all projects work offline by default (you do not need to do anything special), except for map questions, which need to be explicitly configured for offline use.
  • Can work with versioned geodatabase layers: A no for Survey123. In the case of Collector and GeoForm, you can work on top of a versioned layer, although you cannot switch the version from the mobile app. Conflict resolution and version re-conciliation are also not exposed through the apps; they remain an ArcGIS Desktop workflow.
  • Can work with related records: The geodatabase model supports a powerful model for relationships. You can use both Collector and Survey123 to work with related records. For example, you can add and update related records to an existing feature. In the case of Collector, you can also delete related records.
  • Supports external GNSS receivers: Survey123 and Collector can be complemented with external GNSS receivers. This enables high accuracy collection for spatial data, even in 3D. Additionally, both Survey123 and Collector let you store GNSS metadata as attributes of your GIS features. In the case of Survey123, you can also leverage this GNSS metadata while in the field, to support data validation rules.  Collector is designed to work in different datums, whereas Survey123 is limited to WGS84. 
  • Spike: Spike is a laser-measurement solution that helps you measure lengths and areas all from a photo. At this point in time only Survey123 supports out of the box integration with Spike.
  • Supports integration via webhooks: Webhooks are a powerful mechanism to integrate Survey123 within larger business workflows. Though a webhook can you can automate tasks after a record has been added or updated from the Survey123 apps. For example, you can automate an e-mail notification, instantly load your Survey123 records into an Office 365 spreadsheet or have your attachments be processed by Google Vision to enrich your GIS attributes with image labels.  Survey123 connectors are included with Microsoft Flow and Integromat.
  • Anonymous access: GeoForms, Survey123 and Collector all can use your ArcGIS identity (named user account) in order to secure access to your data. Using named users also helps with QA/QC workflows because ArcGIS will help you understand what  gets submitted by who and when. GeoForm and Survey123, can also be accessed anonymously.  This means that people without an ArcGIS identity can submit data with them.  This is particularly useful for crowd-sourcing scenarios. To learn more about using public surveys with Survey123 you can read 
  • Developer opportunities: Survey123 supports developers in several ways. First of all, the source code of Survey123 is available as part of AppStudio for ArcGIS under the Apache 2.0 license. This allows developers to take the app and make it their own. You can simply white-label it, or extend it with custom functionality. Additionally, developers can automate certain Survey123 tasks such as Feature Report generation through the ArcGIS Python API.  In the case of web forms, JavaScript developers can also use the Survey123 web form API to embed and work with Survey123 web forms within their own web applications.   The source code of GeoForm is also available for download. Web/JavaScript developers can do wonders with it.

Next lets move away from details and present some use cases:

  • Say you want to setup a quick crowd-sourcing exercise so anyone in the city can submit to you the location of stuff that interests you. That is a good fit for GeoForms and Survey123 Web Forms. Keep the questionnaire simple, make it available in the web so anyone can quickly fill it out and submit interesting observations to you.  Nothing to download, quick to setup.  
  • Say you want to capture assets in the field and you want people to be able to work while disconnected. Forget about GeoForms then, because working with it in true disconnected environments will get on your nerves. You should consider Collector or Survey123. Your decision will be driven by whether your workflow is map centric or form centric. If this is all about maps, then you should go with Collector, but if you need complex forms a better choice will be Survey123.  Think about the following:
    • Damage Assessments: Typically a form with lots of questions capturing the location of the asset damaged. Most likely a form-centric workflow.
    • Population Census: Fairly sophisticated forms during enumeration: Go Survey123. Pre-enumeration workflows: go Collector.
    • Inspections: Inspection records are typically persisted in a table related to the asset you are inspecting.  This allows you to keep one feature for your asset, and then use a one to many relationship to keep track of inspections or activities on that asset over time. There are many inspection workflows where Collector is a great choice: You can look at all your assets in the map, then add extra rows into the inspections table.  If the inspection form is simple, and in many cases it is, Collector will do well. In cases where the inspection form is more complex, the smart form features of Survey123 will come handy. You can bring all your assets and their related records into Survey123 and handle inspections that way. Survey allows you to display all assets in a list or map so you can find your assets quickly before opening the inspection form.
    • Map inventories: There are some specific workflows where a map-centric approach is ideal. Say for example you are mapping water infrastructure. Typically, you will want to map the meter, the lateral line and the elbow. That is three assets in three different layers... Collector and its map-centric approach is perfect.  Now say you are working on mapping trees, or hydrants... The simplicity of a form to capture attributes and location quickly may make you lean towards a form-centric approach.

There are some cases that are no-brainers, and many others where one could go one way or the other.  In the end, for these cases in the middle it is a matter of personal preference. Collector and Survey give a choice. If you are of the opinion that choices are bad, flip a coin and go your best luck.  If you want the best, try both approaches and work closely with people who will do the job in the field to learn from them what they prefer. It is no coincidence that Esri is providing multiple mobile applications for field data capture: there are many different different field data collection scenarios and one size does not fit them all.

By now you may be thinking... well I want it all: Something that runs anywhere, offline and with great tools to edit both maps, their attributes and smart forms.  Absolutely having all of it may be a stretch, but you will see some of these features converge over time in Collector and Survey123.  You will see Collector incorporate some more intelligence in the attribute editor; and you will see Survey123 for ArcGIS enhance its mapping capabilities. 

It is also very common for people to combine the two applications. This can render excellent results in some scenarios and here are some examples:

The above will give you some hints, but my recommendation is that you put some time into experiencing the different options. Only with first-hand experience you will be able to make the right choice.  At the end of the day, keep in mind that both Collector as well Survey123 and GeoForm are all great options and they have proven to be quite effective in many different situations. Very often, it is not about the tool, is more about you.  The more you know these tools in detail the more you can get out of them.  There are some workflows where the choice is a no brainer but for many that fall somewhere in the middle, whatever choice you make will be a good one. It will often all boil down to you getting the best of the tool you chose.