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OnCell Partnership with U.S. Forest Service Aims to Launch an App for Every Forest

28 Dec

New Mobile App Program will Help Educate and Guide Forest Visitors

Daniel Boone National Forest Mobile App

The Daniel Boone National Forest App is the first app to be launched under the Forest Service’s new mobile app program. It is available for download in the App Store and Google Play.

ROCHESTER, N.Y., Dec. 28, 2016 –OnCell has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to launch a mobile tour app for every forest. Working with theTravel, Tourism and Interpretation section of the Forest Service, OnCell has worked diligently to provide a foundation that gives each forest an opportunity to provide educational mobile tours for visitors. The mobile apps will be rolled out gradually, with the goal of launching all sites by mid-2017.

OnCell, a leader in the mobile tour space for museums, parks, and destinations, will provide the backend technology to build, launch, and manage the tours. All the apps will be constructed with OnCell’s app building platform.

“The new mobile program for forest destinations is very exciting,” says Thomas Dunne, President and CEO of OnCell. “A smartphone is a valuable part of a traveler’s toolkit. The apps will be a great way for forest rangers and staff to provide educational interpretive messages and real time alerts to visitors through their personal devices.”

OnCell will help each forest launch an app with ranger and staff-curated educational content, historic images, maps, and visitor information. After the app is launched, each forest will take over the mobile project and use the app builder to extend the experience with more points of interest and additional wayfinding information. Rangers will also use the app to send time sensitive messages to users, such as closures.

As part of the program, OnCell has worked closely with the Forest Service to develop a special look and feel for the apps that is in line with the Forest Service’s identity.

“The app design created for the Forest Service is just beautiful,” says Dunne. “We wanted visitors to instantly recognize the apps as an extension of the Forest Service, with confidence it will provide relevant and accurate information for their visit.”

A portal app will also be developed that houses every forest app. People can download the portal app to locate nearby forests and take virtual tours across the country.

The Forest Service tested a pilot program with OnCell in 2015, with five forests participating and building their own apps.

Apps for six forests will be available for download early January 2017, with the portal app launching early 2017. Apps slated to be released include, Lake Tahoe Basin in California, Daniel Boone in Kentucky, and San Juan in Colorado.

Visitors can access the apps by downloading them from the App Store or Google Play.

About OnCell

OnCell provides a full range of mobile tour technologies for museums, parks, and cultural destinations. With a variety of interactive services such as a DIY app builder, native and web apps, audio guides, beacon tours, and scavenger hunts, OnCell helps organizations become mobile-friendly. As mobile communication experts who are passionate about the arts and education, the OnCell team has worked on over 2,200 projects both in the U.S. and internationally since its inception in 2006.

Contact:
Monica Barndt, Director of Marketing, OnCell, mbarndt@oncell.com

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App Spotlight: Texas Time Travel Tours

7 Jul

Q&A with Susan Shore, Heritage Tourism Program Specialist at the Texas Historical Commission

Texas Time Travel Tours, the mobile app created by the Texas Historical Commission, is a true portrait of Texas. The app features over 550 sites, 170 of which are highlighted with audio and video. Currently there are seven statewide tours in the app and one site-specific tour for THC historic property Fulton Mansion. Points of interest cover the entire state, from Amarillo to Brownsville, to Texarkana to El Paso. The primary goal for the app is to inspire people to travel Texas and specifically historic sites, whether that is a historic fort or a downtown district.

Q. Why did the Texas Historical Commission decide to create an app?

A. 
Our team had been considering the development of a mobile app for some time. We traditionally have created travel guides in a print format, but not only is it quite expensive, it limits the content we can include. In addition to broadening our user demographic by introducing Texas history on a mobile device, we also wanted to broaden our storytelling capacity to drive visitation to communities across the state. The THC’s motto is “real places telling real stories”—what better way than to encourage travel to those places?

Q. What are the benefits for visitors to use the app?

A. Accessing the stories of Texas using the app allows the user to have information at the ready on their personal device, whether they are traveling to a location or simply viewing from the comfort of home. Once the full native app format is complete with individual tour download capability, users will have more complete access to points of interest in areas of the state that are quite remote and have limited cell/wifi connectivity.

As mentioned earlier, the app allows for rich visual storytelling with the inclusion of image galleries and video, something not possible using print formats.

We have lots of stories to tell! The app’s capacity to house multiple tours gives users access to all of it with just a click or a swipe. Users can also quickly know what places are close to them by using the Nearby map that shows points of interest for all tours.

Q.  How did the THC team go about planning such a large project?

A. Planning began about a year before the initial RFP was issued. We researched other apps for excellence in both storytelling and user experience, and developed a strong vision for our end product. While we had a long list of functions we would like to have in the app, we also realized that the costs of having a platform custom developed for our project probably didn’t meet the long term ROI. We found that already established platforms like the one offered by OnCell could meet our needs with some customization.

Q. Can you tell us a little about how the content was created for the tours?

A. Most of the initial tours built upon existing agency print guides or guides under development. These guides served as the foundational material to help define the scope of each tour. We established small groups of subject matter experts and advisory stakeholders to work with the staff development team. We contracted external vendors for scriptwriting and video production services.

Q. Can you tell us about your marketing strategy for the app?

A. Much of our publicity is tied to the THC’s social media channels–Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blog posts. Videos from all of the tours are included on our YouTube channel and descriptively tied to the app. This also makes it easier to embed in posts on other channels like Facebook. We experience very high engagement on Facebook when video stories are included in posts about the different tours on the app.

Launches for individual tours are tied to related external events when practical. For example, La Salle Odyssey launch corresponded to the opening of a new permanent installation of the reconstructed ship, La Belle, in a major museum. Hispanic Texas launched during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Each tour provides many storytelling opportunities, and will make it easy for us to continue promotions throughout the year with little or no content repetition. All of these contain language that directs user to the full app experience.

Q. What advice would you give to other organizations who are looking to create an app?

A. Do your research and ask questions for both platform selection and content development. Keep your audience top-of-mind and be consistent in the style and quality of all elements of the project.

Texas Time Travel Tours features an immersive blend of interpretive audio with first person interviews, video, and image galleries that allows users to experience the real places and real stories of Texas. GPS features allow visitors to locate nearby points of interest and offers people an easy way to share content with social media. Explore the rich heritage of Texas by downloading the app, available for iOS in the App Store and Android in Google Play. Access the web app on any web-enabled device at http://texastimetravel.toursphere.com

App Spotlight: Cranbrook House and Gardens

2 Jun

Cranbrook House and Gardens smartphone app for iOS and Android

Q&A with Eric Franchy, Public Relations Coordinator at Cranbrook House and Gardens

Cranbook House and Gardens, located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is the oldest historic manor in metropolitan Detroit and serves as the centerpiece of the Cranbrook Educational Community campus, a National Historic Landmark. Formerly the estate of Ellen Scripps and newspaper mogul George Booth, Cranbrook is an English-Tudor house designed in the American Arts and Crafts style by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn in 1908. The grounds of the house and gardens spans over 40 acres and sees over 5,000 visitors a year. The app provides an audio tour rich with historic imagery and introduces visitors to the history of Cranbrook prior to guiding them through the gardens.

Q. What was the main goal for creating an app for the Cranbrook House and Gardens?

A. 
The goal for providing an app was to enhance the visitor experience. Our initial idea was to take our garden tour into the virtual sphere and to help our guests navigate the property. Once we began working with the OnCell app builder we realized there was potential for us to create an all-inclusive app.

Q. You launched your app last year and put it on hold for the winter lull. Did you learn any lessons from the previous year and make any adjustments for your spring relaunch?

A. The native app wasn’t live until the end of summer last year; as such, we decided to use the remainder of our tour season last year as a soft-launch for testing purposes. As a result of testing we did make some edits to the app, such as slowing down the duration of our image gallery from light speed to one that allows the user to actually see each image! We changed the design of the app homepage this year to make it more visually inviting and mobile friendly, and also incorporated OnCell’s new ‘Favorites’ function.

Q. How has the app been received by visitors and colleagues?

A. Our app was just announced to the public in late-May, but so far it has been well received. I spoke with two guests yesterday who were visiting from out of state, they told me they were in front of one of our sculptures and wanted to know more about it, so they opened the app and found exactly what they were looking for. The beta team of members and colleagues that helped us test the app during the soft-launch last year were really impressed with the app and all of its features.

A visitor uses the Cranbrook House and Gardens mobile app

Standing above the reflecting pool, a visitor uses the Cranbrook House and Gardens mobile app to tour the gardens.

Q. How does your organization promote the app and encourage its use?

A. We promote the app and encourage its use through a press release announcement to media, email announcement to the public, inclusion on our website, social media postings, onsite signage, inclusion in our Visitor Guide & Map brochures, and informational rack cards.

Q. The app looks great–nicely curated with both modern and archival images along with wayfinding info. How long did it take your team to gather the content and publish your app?

A. Thank you! It took us about two months of researching archival databases, scripts, and other information to gather the tour content, and another one to two months to design the app. The biggest challenge was trimming all of the content gathered into an amount acceptable for display on a mobile device; Cranbrook has such a rich history!

Q. Do you have advice for other orgs that may be interested in developing an app?

A. Have fun with it, be creative, and think about how you want the app to be structured before you begin building pages.

Q. What are the next steps in your organization’s visitor engagement strategy?

A. We plan to continue to find creative ways for the app to improve visitor engagement. In addition to the app tours, we may add one or a few scavenger hunts of varying difficulty. New technologies such as push notifications that could give us the possibility of alerting users of what’s in bloom each week are currently being explored as well.

The Cranbrook House and Gardens smartphone app features interpretive audio, video, and image galleries, along with an interactive map and visitor info such as events and admission. It is available for download on iOS in the App Store and Android in Google Play. Access the web app on any web-enabled device at http://cranbrookhouseandgardens.toursphere.com

OnCell Announces Strong Growth in First Quarter Fiscal 2016

29 Apr

Native apps, advanced features with premier support drive revenue growth

PITTSFORD, N.Y., April 29, 2016–OnCell, a leader in the mobile tour segment for museums and all cultural destinations, today announced dramatic growth for its first fiscal quarter, ending March 31, 2016. The company ended its first quarter with a revenue increase of 53% versus the same period in 2015.

The current 16 employee team has delivered OnCell’s highest quarter ever since initiating sales activities in 2007.

OnCell has dramatically increased its product offerings over the past year, including the ability to implement proximity beacons and push notifications with their native app packages. Native app sales units are also up over 200% versus last year.

“I’m very pleased with our first quarter performance, which exceeded our expectations and reflected our most significant progress to date,” said Thomas Dunne, OnCell President and CEO. “I attribute our success and evolution to our amazing team, which focuses on developing and delivering best in class value and service to our clients.”

With a net promoter score of 53, OnCell has made a strong name for itself among competitors and maintains a high client retention rate. “We are constantly evaluating client feedback to deliver a consistent product that grows with the needs of our market,” said Dunne.

OnCell’s celebrates its longevity in this field with its 10th anniversary this year.

Start the New Year With an All-Inclusive Beacon Tour

11 Jan

beacon tours and native apps for museums, parks, and cities

For a limited time, purchase our native iOS and Android app bundle with 10 beacons and save up to 20%. Choose from our Pro, Lite, or Audio Guide products. Your beacons ship pre-configured and ready to install with no additional set-up fees.

Location aware beacons use low-energy Bluetooth to ensure your visitors receive the most relevant content based on their precise location. They are great to implement in locations that struggle with connectivity. Learn more about the benefits of deploying beacon technology on our website.

Limited time offer expires 3/31/16.

Contact us today to learn more or explore our products.

Currier Museum of Art Wins Accessibility Award for Audio Tour

22 Jul

currier-appThe Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, was honored with a 2015 Access Award by the New Hampshire Association for the Blind for outstanding accomplishments in accessibility for people with disabilities. The Currier worked closely with the New Hampshire Association for the Blind to launch a mobile tour of collection highlights that includes audio with detailed visual descriptions.

“The Currier is committed to providing opportunities for all to enjoy art, and that means designing experiences that are accessible to people with disabilities,” said Leah Fox, Director of Public Programs.

The app also contains audio interpretation with transcriptions for each piece. Additionally, to help meet their accessibility goals, the Currier is fully wheelchair accessible, wall text is designed in large print, and assistive listening systems are available.

Visit the audio tour app at http://currier.toursphere.com to see how The Currier used mobile to help make art accessible to all.

 

Share the Love With Our New Referral Program

2 Apr

Are you an existing client who is looking to save money for your organization or add new services, like native apps? Have you been wanting to launch a new tour but haven’t quite had the funds? Now’s your chance to save! We’re excited to announce a new referral program for you and your colleagues! Introduce a colleague and everyone saves when they sign up for our service plans.

OnCell TourSphere App & Audio Guide Referral Program

Do you have a referral for us? Fill out our form today, and as often as you like!

Tips & Tricks: How to Create Apps with a Custom Feel

1 Apr

If you don’t have the budget right now to create a unique custom design for your app, don’t fret. Our builder was designed to be flexible and lets you tap your creative spirit! You can easily give your app more punch by taking advantage of the app builder’s capabilities and enlisting your resident image maven.

Creating Unique Apps

A site list graphic is created as one image, but is designed to give the appearance of multiple buttons.

1. Make a unique site list by using images with touchable hotspots.

Create an original image graphic for your site list that breaks down your app content into specific categories. In the builder, add the Image Map widget to the desired page and upload the graphic. You’ll then be able to draw touchable “hotspots” over each category and turn each section into an interactive “button”. Since you are creating this image specifically for your app, you can choose to graphically represent the categories as circles, squares, rectangles, even icons–it’s up to you!

Check out a great example created by the Cranbrook House and Gardens. The Home page of their app features an image map with touchable hotspots.

2. Make those site lists feel even more custom by using images with a transparent background.

Consider creating a site list graphic with a transparent background. In the example below, the image on the left was created with a textured blue background and saved as a JPG. The image on the right was created with a transparent background and saved as a PNG file in order to preserve the transparency. Note how using a transparent background gives the impression the category “buttons” are floating on the background of the app–as opposed to obscuring the background–and leaves more of a custom feel. Again, the client is utilizing our Image Map widget to turn each category into a touchable hotspot to drive the user to the appropriate page in the app.

Mobile Tour Example Home Page

A client uses special graphics and the image map widget to make their Home page pop.

3. Add text or logos to your images.

Strategically adding your logo or app name to strategic images in your app can make a huge impact on its overall look and feel. In the image above, the client added text to their home page image using image editing software. Because the client was able to implement fonts from their organization’s style guide, the end user is instantly presented with the client’s branding. On this particular sample, the client turned off the page padding in the builder to allow the image to span the full width of the page, which presents a different feel as well. This setting can be changed on a page-by-page basis by clicking on the page header in the builder.

4. Create transparent banners in your app.

Using image editing software, you can easily mount graphics you’ve created for other purposes as a way to bring in your branding. In the examples below on the left, the Canadian Museum of Nature has reused an existing image designed for a printed map and centered it onto a transparent banner. On the right, a client’s logo is used instead. In both scenarios the banner is created at 1024 pixels wide, with the image centered, and saved as a transparent PNG. The transparency of the file, and the fact that the image is centered–rather than running the full width of the page–presents a more refined feel to your app. If you create a banner for your logo, you can play with the height of the file and reuse it throughout your app–taller banners at the top of a key pages like a Home or About Us, or shorter ones subtly placed at the bottom of each page in your app. For more info and examples about sizing banners, visit our Learning Center.

Images mounted and centered onto transparent image banners lend a custom feel to your app.

Images mounted and centered onto transparent image banners lend a custom feel to your app.

 

Incorporating some of these ideas can transform your app and turn one of our stock themes into one that reflects your organization’s identity. If your organization does not have image editing software, you can always use free ones like Pixlr or Photoshop CS2.

Did you learn any tricks while building your app? Tell us about them!

2015 Schedule of Events

31 Mar

Contact us at info@toursphere.com if you are attending any of these events and would like to schedule a dedicated chat about your mobile interpretive strategy. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Museum Association of New York
April 12-14
Corning, NY

Nevada Tourism Commission’s Rural Roundup
April 15-17
Carson City, NV
Join our President Thomas Dunne for the mobile session History as a Hook on April 16th at 10am and 11am. He’ll be co-presenting with Peter Barton, Administrator for the Nevada Division of Museums and History.

American Alliance of Museums
April 26-29
Atlanta, GA
Booth #827

National Association for Interpretation (NAI) International Conference
May 3-7
Montréal, Québec, Canada
Booth #5

Association of Midwest Museums
July 19-22
Cincinnati, OH
We’ll be providing the official mobile app!

Southeastern Museum Conference Annual Meeting
October 12-14
Jacksonville, FL
We’ll be providing the official mobile app!
Join our VP of Market Development Kevin Dooley and a panel of your museum colleagues as they present the session Maximize Your Mobile App. You’ll learn how to leverage your app to drive memberships, fundraise, meet accessibility goals, engage with visitors of all ages, and more.

New England Museum Association
November 4-6
Portland, ME
We’ll be providing the official mobile app!

App Spotlight: The Noah Webster House

30 Mar

Noah-Webster-App-HomeQ&A with Sarah St. Germain, Coordinator of Public Programs at the Noah Webster House

The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is located in the restored birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster. Webster was a national figure known not only for the first American dictionary and the Blue-Backed Speller, but also for being a federalist, an abolitionist, and a cofounder of Amherst College.

Our team worked closely with the Noah Webster House to create a unique custom design and help build a striking multilingual app. The app was designed especially for onsite tablet devices. It features English and Spanish tours, unique content for children, and closed captioned videos to better meet their accessibility goals.

Q. How many visitors do you see a year?

A. Around 4,000 visitors take tours of the house each year.

Q. What were the main goals for creating your app?

A. We wanted to extend our audience and reach out to the deaf, hard of hearing, and Spanish speaking communities. West Hartford, Connecticut is a highly diverse town and we want to be able to offer an experience that just about anyone can enjoy. We would like to expand the tour to other languages in the future.

Noah-Webster-App-RoomQ. How does it enhance the visitor experience?

A. The videos, object information, and narration give a completely different story than we’ve told in the past. It includes videos of an actor playing Noah Webster and using his words to tell the story of his life. Each one is only a couple of minutes long. We also included videos of local experts talking about and demonstrating a variety of things. Hearth cooking, weaving, architecture, room use, etc. And with the videos for kids, by kids, there’s something for every age group. Visitors love to see the kids react to eating colonial foods that are weird to kids now, like black pudding and clams.

Q. How are you using the app?

A. We’re using the app on days when we don’t have a tour guide.

Q. How are onsite devices used in your mobile strategy?

A. We only have four tablets available now, but we’re hoping to add more soon. Each tablet is loaded with the proprietary app and can be used by one or more visitors.

Q. Why did you choose to have onsite devices only, and not a web or native app for download in the app stores?

A. Since the app covers the entire house, we decided not to give away our tour completely. We still want people to come to our site to see the historic house and interact with it and our exhibits. We are planning to post some of the videos and highlights on our website at some point.

Q. Can you tell us a little about how you created the content?

A. It was a lot of trial and error because we had a ton of information and each room narration was originally about 7 minutes. But visitors don’t want to listen to something for that long, so we found different ways to share the info, like the videos, object information, and the paintings.

Q. How did you plan the app?

A. We did a survey in 2011 about how people like to tour a museum. Half wanted a guided tour, while the other half wanted a self-guided tour. We can now cater to just about everyone.

Q. What advice would you give to other organizations who are looking to create an app?

A. Get funding first! It was a tough road to get planning grants, then have to apply and reapply for implementation grants. The funding was definitely why it took so long to finalize the app. If you can layout your entire plan first and talk to the funders along the way, it will save you a lot of time. In the end, the changes we made along the way have made our tour stronger and more applicable to our site.

Q. How are you marketing the app?

A. We’ve sent out press releases and emails, but we also have an exhibit space in Blue Back Square in West Hartford Center. It’s a changing screen that includes info on upcoming programs and events. We have the tablet tour in the mix, so hundreds of people see it every day.

Q. What part of the app is a staff favorite?

A. We LOVE the art! Monica Vachula, the artist behind the imagery, did an amazing job at giving the historic house a more lively look. You can see the room in front of you, then look at the tablet and see what the room might have looked like with the Websters in it. There is a painting for each room, so it’s hard to choose a favorite.

Noah-Webster-House-Tour-Object

 

Though the Noah Webster House tour is not available for download, visit www.noahwebsterhouse.org to learn more about the lexicographer who strongly believed that the United States had a distinctive brand of English with its own idiom, pronunciation, and style, and published the first truly American dictionary in 1783.

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