New mobile app from Spokesman Review turns your smartphone into a tour guide


Call it good. (Connected, all the time!)

Call it bad. (Inward and antisocial. Dude, talk to me.) 

Call it what you will.

But the fact is, people are spending more and more of their waking lives with heads bowed over smartphones.

Here at The Spokesman-Review, we’re blessed with super-smart, uber-observant Senior Editor for Digital Media Ryan Pitts. He has found a new way to serve audiences via a mobile app targeting historic building aficionados. And we know we can use his model for lots of other audiences in the future.

In late October, the National Trust for Historic Preservation held its annual conference in Spokane. So Pitts and the editorial team brainstormed a framework for producing mobile-first guides that help readers explore historic places around Spokane and the Inland Northwest.

Pitts shared the reasons editorial is excited about the project — in additional to its lifespan, because the guides will live on long after the conference leaves town:

  • Simple, intuitive design. “We made this Web app with mobile use in mind, first and foremost. Pages are clean, fast, and bright, with useful iconography and navigation elements designed for tap-ability,” says Pitts. “Once you choose a guide and get started, it’s really easy to follow along from one stop to the next.”

  • Full-screen maps. “Originally, we built locator maps onto each tour stop’s page, but we realised quickly that they were too small to provide much geographic context. So we wrote some special mapping code that lets you toggle in a full-screen map while you’re looking at a tour stop, then dismiss it to see text and photos again. Custom icons on the map remind you how far along you are on the tour.”

  • Automatic directions. “Because of the way we’re storing geographic information, each page you visit can automatically provide directions to the next stop on the tour. Pretty handy if you aren’t familiar with the area,” Pitts notes.

  • Audio support. Says Pitts, “Our framework allows us to upload MP3 clips if narration might be helpful at a particular tour stop. The audio is integrated right into the rest of the tour details, so you can tap the play button (even on a phone), and it just works.”

  • Offline use. “We’re using the caching framework available in HTML5, so if your device supports it, each guide offers a link to ‘save for offline use.’ Clicking the link stores everything you need — text, images, directions — to follow along even without a cell-phone signal. Which is a pretty nice feature in places with poor coverage, or if you want to add a guide to your tablet and then turn off data use,” Pitts says.

  • Full-screen mode. “Thanks to custom icons and a few lines of code, you can bookmark a guide to your phone’s home screen, then launch and run it just like a native app.”

This model can be adapted and used in any community, around any topic.

We like the idea of a mobile guide to ArtWalk, an annual gallery-viewing event hosted by area artists. We could see it used for a tour of Green Bluff, a nearby agricultural oasis where families gather on weekends for apple cider, corn-maze navigation, wine-tasting, pie-eating, and other fall delights.

We’d love to offer it around our Spokane7, a print/online/mobile guide of fun things to do seven days a week. A pub crawl tour right on your smartphone? Useful. Intuitive. (Oddly) social. And a new way to make our print products stretch their real-time relevance on our adjacent digital platforms.

Pitts points out the Guides app really was developed for mobile users first; it’s only now that we’re adding some responsive elements to take advantage of extra space on tablet and desktop screens.

We wanted to be sure that the Guides were a fun, intuitive experience for readers who wanted to grab their smartphones and follow along for themselves, and I think we’ve made that happen, he says.

Check it out at

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