Live from Esri DevSummit 2014

I think this is my fifth year at the Esri DevSummit. I tend to count the years by remembering the hotels where I’ve stayed. There’s the Hilton, the Renaissance, the Courtyard, and the cheap timeshare that was cheap for a reason. This year, I’m staying at the Extended Stay a couple of blocks away from the convention center. If you’ve been here, you know it’s a good idea to book your hotel as early as possible or it becomes really difficult to find a reasonably-priced room within walking distance.

Overall, it’s a great conference for Esri developers. So great, in fact, that I haven’t been to the International User Conference in San Diego in 10 years! The content is very good, Esri staff is on-hand to answer questions and the fact that it’s in Palm Springs in March is the cherry on top. Especially if you’ve been in the Midwest this winter…

So, what have I learned so far? I’ll list the highlights in this post and will update it at least once daily.

Plenary Session

This is the biggest DevSummit so far: 1800 attendees, including 300 Esri staff.

Unlike other years, I didn’t see any huge revelations, but mainly steady improvement of what’s available. Having said that, here are the biggest themes:

  • JavaScript, JavaScript, JavaScript. If you’re still using Flex & Silverlight for web development, start learning JS because you’ll have to make the move sooner or later. If you can, don’t start a new project using Flex or Silverlight. I’ve been recommending this to my clients for the past few years, but I think we’re finally at that point where people have to seriously consider moving away, even if you’ve made some significant investments.
  • Develop once, deploy to multiple devices (desktop, tablets, phones). Look into Qt and Esri’s ArcGIS SDK for Qt. Qt will allow you to deploy to Android, iOS & Windows! They said the beta would be available in 2 to 3 months, but it looks like you can already download something now. I assume the beta will be an update but I’ll try to confirm. UPDATE: the current version is for C++. The beta will be for QML, which provides the cross-platform functionality.
  • If working with Windows devices, you should really look into the new ArcGIS Runtime for .NET. You can join the beta now.
  • The big focus of the new ArcGIS Runtime is offline use. This includes map viewing, data editing, geocoding & routing. Note that this includes attachments!
  • ArcGIS Pro: while they haven’t come out and said it, I think this is the future of ArcGIS Desktop. It’s a 64-bit multi-threaded app, it can be installed side-by-side with any version of Desktop, it includes 2D & 3D editing, geoprocessing tools and integration with Workflow Manager. For CityEngine folks, you’ll be happy to know that you can even apply CityEngine rule packages to features in ArcGIS Pro. It also comes with its own .NET SDK. Unlike ArcObjects, there’s no COM here. Esri is trying to make it symmetrical to the .NET SDK.
  • For ArcGIS Runtime for .NET & the ArcGIS Pro .NET SDK, get familiar with .NET’s asynchronous programming with async & await.
  • 10.3: the predicted release is Q3. Desktop will see performance improvements and quality improvements. Server will have a dashboard for services statistics, better OGC support and 3D services. Portal will include better security and enterprise user management.
  • 3D: I was hoping for more NOW, not a few months down the road. However, what’s coming up is exciting. Esri is coming out with a browser-based WebGL-based application so no plugins! It can pull a terrain service and 3D objects via a SceneService.

This was a great keynote, one of the better ones I thought. Chris Wanstrath, GitHub’s CEO and co-founder, was the speaker and spoke of his background, how GitHub came to be and how to look at open-source code. It was a dynamic talk and I recommend you check it out!

ArcGIS Pro

I attended the “Introduction to the New ArcGIS Professional .NET SDK” session and this really confirmed to me that this will eventually replace Desktop. Esri did not actually come out and say that though, but I think that given enough time, it will.

Having said that, if you’re looking at this from the ArcObjects perspective, you might be disappointed with what will initially be available. They will provide some minimal API functionality to start and increase that functionality over time based on customer demand. I asked about some of the big AO libraries such as geometry & geodatabase and it sounds like the first beta will include some geometry & maybe geodatabase functionality. What I was told was that it would be a fine-grained API similar to what’s available in ArcGIS Runtime.

As with Desktop development, the SDK will include Visual Studio templates. The first release will focus on VS 2013. Customization will be done via the development of add-ins. The UI is quite flexible. However, for those of us who mainly have experience with ArcObjects, the development approach will be a little different as the API is designed to use .NET’s asynchronous programming with async & await.

Sample code will be stored on GitHub and companion datasets will be hosted on ArcGIS Online. Esri hopes that developers like us will submit new or edited samples. This is a great idea and will hopefully provide more robust samples.

ArcGIS Pro will be released with 10.3 this Summer, so you won’t have to wait too long to start playing with it.

For a brief overview, check out the video below that comes from Tuesday’s plenary:

3D in the JavaScript API

I am VERY excited about this. So far the demos look really slick and it’s obvious Esri has put quite a bit of thought into it. This explains why the next version will be version 4 and the other web APIs will be stuck at 3. The JSAPI will have a new internal architecture but should look the same to us developers. Esri says that this will be 99% backward compatible.

The API will include new 3D classes, including layers, symbology, labeling, popups, etc.

A lot will have to come together at once. For example, there will be a new service type in ArcGIS Server (Scene Service) for 3D vector data (mesh, point, line and polygon). We’ll be able to access this type of service in the Runtime SDKs, ArcGIS Pro and of course the JSAPI.

Check out this video from the plenary:


You might remember reading a recent announcement from Esri encouraging developers to switch to the JS API. Esri will soon release version 4 of the JS API but the Flex & Silverlight APIs will remain at 3. They’ll still maintain them but they will not release any new major functionality for those.

If you’ve used the Flex API because it was so quick & easy to develop new websites, you’ll be happy to know that Esri is releasing the ArcGIS WebApp Builder, which will allow you to create new JS websites in very little time. You’ll install the WebApp Builder on your machine and will have access to all of the source code (supposedly not minified or obfuscated). The Builder looks really good and includes the following functionality:

  • GUI builder
  • Out-of-the-box widgets (very similar to creating regular Dojo widgets)
  • Out-of-the-box themes
  • Built-in language support
  • Ability to add new custom widgets
  • Ability to add new custom themes
  • No 3rd party libraries outside of Dojo

You can already sign up for the beta, which will be released on March 28. The beta will be fully supported. The public release is timed for 10.3.

Did I mention that this will include support for 2D AND 3D maps? And that it’s been designed to run on IE9+, FF, Chrome, and Safary 3+?

Closing Thoughts

This is big and as I said above, we at Woolpert are *very* excited about this. We’ve been waiting for something like this for a while. It’s going to be integrated with pretty much everything: from ArcGIS Server to the JS API to Runtime to Pro.

During the dodgeball tournament Wednesday night, Jim McKinney joked that the team named “the Silverlighters” would need to call itself the “JavaScripters” next year. This summarizes it pretty well. Another team’s name was “Save the Flex”. ’nuff said. Give up Silverlight & Flex. Move to JS. Now!!

Do check out the various JS sessions from the DevSummit, such as:

  • Dojo: The Good Parts
  • Testing Tools and Patterns for JavaScript Mapping Applications
  • JavaScript API – What Have You Done for Me Lately?


The new ArcGIS Runtime for .NET will handle all Windows devices (desktop, phone, store). Esri’s push with the ArcGIS Runtime for Qt will allow you to use the same source code for iOS, Android & Windows.

This is a big effort for the Runtime SDKs. If you’re going to do this, check out the ‘Building Offline Apps with ArcGIS Runtime SDKs’ session (there are two: Part I & Part II).

Next Year
Start making plans for next year for the 10th DevSummit! It will be March 9, 2015 to March 12, 2015.

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