Thursday, March 15, 2012

The trick to that SJG iPhone App: pre-load it at home

by aleks

SJG • 3/15/2012 - ducks on the end of rock penninsula
A few posts earlier I mentioned the existence of an iPhone app for SJG audio tour  [link to itune store here], and that unfortunately it loads dreadfully slowly.

I also found a link for a smart phone SJG app (non iPhone) [link to Photosynth here, it will direct you to download MS silverlight]  - I don't know what is on this app, so if you manage to download it and use it, please post a comment to let the rest of us know if it worked for you.

A few days ago my husband tried Deputy Docent (the name of the iPhone app) again, and it wasn't loading at all ('cannot connect to server' msg flashed on the iPhone screen), so I made a mental note to write a question/complaint to the Garden gods about it. Luck had it that the app creator, Kenn Fung, saw the post about his app and emailed this:

Kenn:  You mentioned in your blog that your husband has tried using the app at the garden but it was painfully slow and he suspected that it was an issue with connectivity.  He is absolutely right.  Because there is no free WIFI at the garden, the app has to rely on cell phone signals, but because of the location of the garden, the cellular reception could be slow at times.  If you'd like to give it another try, there is one way to get around it.  By default, Deputy Docent caches any downloaded data for 7 days, so if you start the app at home where there is a fast WIFI connection, and click on the various Stations on the Audio Tour map, the app will load the audio recordings as well as the images and transcripts on to your iPhone and save them for 7 days (unless the content changes during the next 7 days, in which case the cached data will be purged and re-downloaded).  

Besides the audio tour, the Deputy Docent iPhone app also features an event calendar, which i created by using information available on the SJG website. 

SJG • 3/15/2012 - On the East Path: blooming Rhododendron Sutchuenence 

We did just that after seeing Kenn's email: we loaded the app at home and it worked like magic, plus it was fun to virtually 'stroll through' the Garden (the app has pics) from the couch at 8 pm, after the real Garden was actually locked for the night.

The next day we rushed to the Garden to try it (it was good 20 hrs after loading the app by then) and it still worked there, as we walked from the gate through the stations, clicking 'play' and 'stop' and comparing virtual life to the real one:  virtual was in bloom mostly while real was winter-like bare-ish, since it was still February; and even though I am in the Garden often and saw its many seasons I couldn't  help but think: 'don't miss that bloom this year, too!'  I was curious how Kenn got the idea of writing this app, so I asked if he would mind sharing that info with the blog readers, and this is his answer:

Kenn:  As to why i did the app... well, i am a computer programmer and prior to Deputy Docent, i worked mostly on web apps.  A couple years ago i wanted to make the jump to writing mobile apps.  That sowed the seed, but i still needed an idea.  Then one day my partner and i were visiting a museum where we had to rent an audio device to listen to the program.  It dawned on us that we could create an app for that, so i did.  We picked SJG as our "prototype" for two reasons: (1) Readily available information on the web, including audio recordings, images, and event schedules, and (2) It's close by so it would be quite easy for us to do field testing and to gather further information (e.g., coordinates for the map).

The idea is that Deputy Docent can be extended to create similar tours for other parks or museums easily.  One just needs to go to our website and upload the tour contents (like images, text files, and audio recordings), and the resulting tour will show up under the iPhone app.  Anyway, please do let me know how it works after you have a chance to try it out at the garden.  We welcome all feedback, positive or otherwise.

SJG • 3/15/2012 - Group of docents is getting a special tour from the gardeners  Sue and Patty, on the winter work done in the Garden: some plants has been removed, moved to a different place, bridges repaired 

Well, as for 'positive':   the app is, in my opinion,  a wonderful public service for the iPhone owners, who can now stroll through the Garden while still in touch with their beloved e-pets (just remember to pre-load it  where there is WIFI - home or the nearest Starbucks) and they can e-relive their Garden experience after leaving it; non-iPhone owners can still enjoy the same tour on the audio device borrowed from the booth at the Garden's Gate.

As for the feedback  'otherwise',  the undersigned Miss Ditzy has trouble walking and chewing e-gum at the same time so I wrote Kenn:

aleks:  I wasn't able to just point and click and have the app figure out where the hell I am:), the GPS thing.   No, not really bitching, just occurred to me as I was trying to figure out my way on the app between the map and corresponding stations while walking the garden at the same time that I know the garden really well,  but one-time visitors might be disoriented between the app workings and real life - some 'sesame open' GPS to orient them might encourage them to use it with greater ease. If possible, that is.

That's right: how come we can't just  click one's heels three times, point and have the app take us 'home'?  No ruby slippers for non-geeks, I see.  Kenn is obviously already working on his skill-set for the Good With of the North for he replayed:

Kenn: The app currently does have some GPS functionality, but under a different map (click the Information tab and then select Garden Map); if the GPS is working properly (i.e., signals are strong and accurate), you should see a little set of footprints on the map, which indicates your current location, and a blue circle around it, which represents the margin of error.  

SJG • 3/15/2012 - On the mountain (West) side of the garden shyly blooming
Lindera obtusiloba (Japanese spicebush): in late winter, clusters of small star shaped
bright yellow spicy fragrant flowers adorn the bare branches. 

Kenn's app also has an event calendar for the SJG - the app user is able to see what's happening in the Garden any time and anywhere;  he takes the event info from the Parks Department website which, like all websites, may contain occasional errors, so it's best to confirm the event you are planning to attend by calling the Garden Gate at 206-684-4725.


  1. Replies
    1. Some of the newer version of iphone devices that are configured with the software system.

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    2. Kenn - will your app work on an android tablet?