Mobile Data Collection: Input

Feb 25, 2020 | GIS, Open Source GIS, QGIS

If you flash back to 2008 you would have seen me sitting on my couch unwrapping a Trimble SB (?) running Arcpad. At the time I thought “collecting data” would be a beneficial add-on to me being a consultant. Spoiler alert – It wasn’t.

If you flash back to 2013 I was sitting in the Caribbean needed to collect data and I was holding a new giant yellow GPS unit that wouldn’t quit rebooting when it got hot. Spoiler Alert – It’s always hot (generally) in the Caribbean. What I did find is Fulcrum – and that allowed me and about 5 or so folk to disperse and work all over the place and collect data – WITH OUR PHONE. Which for 2013 was pretty awesome for me.Since then I’ve always been interested in how people are collecting data. I will make fun of you for doing it “Pencil and Paper” but I will admit to having a field journal and pencils in my laptop bag just in case.

A client asked a few weeks back “We need to take a copy of the data into the field” and that trip into the field was going to be with no to limited connectivity, no data collection, but they needed to know where they were. They are a IOS/Mac heavy group. Print a map seemed a bit harsh and working through some other hoops seemed unnecessary.

So my suggestion was Input. So what is an Input? Lutra Consulting developed a mobile app built off the QGIS Source Code. It runs on Android and IOS. There are tutorials out there on using Input. I can’t do better than the ones that are out so I won’t even try. I can throw in some screen shots and just general discussion on why Input is pretty cool from an avid QGIS user. When you get it installed on your mobile device of choice you get this:

input start screen

Simple. Home being the map screen, my projects being things you can work on, shared being projects that are shared with you from others, and finally explore just in case you can’t find your project.

So we will tackle this one of two ways. One way with Mergin and one without. What’s Mergin? Mergin is the commercial end of Input. Commercial? What? Yes – there is a commercial end of Input.

1. Install Mergin and Get an account. Don’t worry – it’s free for small projects. Download Mergin from the Plugin Manager in QGIS. Mergin will appear in your browser panel.

2. Build a project in QGIS. Import your data into Geopackage. Build the project the way you’d want it to be displayed on your phone. When I say “build your project” you’re going to build widgets for data input, set up labels, and set up your colors. I prefer boring as seen by this screenshot.

QGIS Project Screen

3. Import your project into Mergin (You’ll have to connect the plugin to your Mergin Account).

Give it a few minutes and you can now download your project into Input and start working. Edit your points, lines, and polygons….and attributes….

Input Project


4. Sync your project back to Mergin. Download it back to your computer.

One word of caution :

  1. You’re going to build a project .
  2. You’re going to COPY it to the server using Mergin.
  3. Move it to your mobile device.
  4. Edit it locally and sync it back to the server
  5. Eventually you’re going to download it back to your compute using Mergin
  6. So at the end you’ll have one old project and one new one sitting on your machine. Just pay attention. I did get confused at first but I’m slow.

You don’t want to use Mergin?

  1. Then copy your data to your mobile device.
  2. Create a directory under the projects folder under Input and move your data there.
  3. Start working. At some point you’ll have to manually move things back to your laptop.

….and there you go.

So where does that leave me with all of my current love of data and databases? So as an experiment I connected to a test server and edited data against PostGIS (live). I wouldn’t suggest that for day to day because “you always need a network connection of some sort”. So I’d always build a local project to share to your mobile device.

I need more than “me” collecting data – then read up. Several people can edit and Lutra has used Geodiff to handle multiple users. All your edits can go back into the same geopackage that you download back to your Workstation.

So should you pay for Mergin? If I stuff a street centerline file, building footprints, streams, and a few other things for a medium sized city I’m getting close to 100mb of disk space. So I’d say pay. If you just can’t pay – then keep it under 100Mb or manually move your data over.

Overall I like it.  For years I’ve said “QGIS on Mobile” and now we have Qfield and Input.










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