It seems almost counter-intuitive to bring a high-tech gadget such as an iPad on a trip through one of this country’s national parks. After all, you’re supposed to be looking at nature’s wonders, not an electronic screen, right?
But a Utah digital media company has developed an iPhone and iPad app in partnership with National Geographic that displays colorful guides to 20 of the country’s 58 national parks. The app, which includes information on Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon parks in Utah, was created to inspire people to visit those grand vistas, said Thomas Cooke, managing partner of Rally Interactive, which has offices in Salt Lake City and Park City.
"The idea is to surprise, delight and inspire with this app," he said. "That’s what we’re really going for."
The "National Parks by National Geographic" app is on sale through the iTunes App Store and so far has sold more than 650,000 copies, according to Jess Elder, product manager for National Geographic’s interactive products group. The main app is free and comes with one national park guide of your choice. Additional guides can be downloaded into the app for either 99 cents or $1.99, depending on the park.
Each guide for the app contains information about each park, including factoids, lists of what to do and what to see, stats about the park (how many visitors it had last year, for example), and camping and lodging information. All of that information is tied to maps that add pin drops to all of the points of interest.
It also features access to instant weather reports and has a social networking component that allows users to read tweets from park officials, as well as share park info through email and Facebook.
Perhaps best of all, the app is loaded with high-resolution photos from National Geographic that show off the parks majestic scenery.
"One of the aspects of the app [National Geographic] felt important was to provide photography tips from well-known photographers . . . on how to get the best shots from the best spots," Cooke said.
The app also has a digital spin on an old park tradition — the National Park Passport Stamp program. Since 1986, the parks have been selling passport-styled books to visitors that can be filled with stamps at each park visit. The National Geographic app automatically receives virtual stamps when a device is carried into or near a park visitor’s center.
"We knew we had to have an angle or theme that really sets this product apart," Cooke said. "What we came up with was rekindling the pastime of going to national parks for the sake of going to national parks."
Elder says National Geographic plans to put out guides for the remaining 38 national parks, with another three to five released later this year.
Apple was so smitten with the app that the company bestowed its coveted 2012 Apple Design Award in the iPhone Developer Showcase category "for strong design and attention to detail," according to the Apple developers’ website. Apple also featured the app in iTunes’ App of the Week and Editor’s Choice.
Rally Interactive was "the perfect company to help us create that vision and really reach that next step in what we think an app can do," National Geographic’s Elder said. "We wanted it to be something new and something enticing."
Rally Interactive was formed January 2011 by Cooke, Ben Cline and Wes Pearce, who have worked in digital advertising in Salt Lake City collectively for 30 years.
National Geographic noticed their work when Elder saw Rally’s previous iPad app, Canyon Country National Parks, which also is an interactive guide to national parks.
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