Florida Keys Business
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Explore Key West -- there's an app for that
Digital walking tour puts Key West in your pocket

Looking for the history of the Hemingway House or the La Concha Hotel? Trying to find your way from the Key West Lighthouse to Mallory Square? Wondering about the time that Tennessee Williams or Capt. Tony spent in the Southernmost City? Hoping to explore the historical points of interest around your guesthouse? Or do you simply want to take Key West's photos and history home with you after your vacation?

Not to worry, there's an app for that -- for all of that.

The new Key West Walking Guide application, or "app," puts Key West in your pocket, with interactive maps, seven self-guided walking tours, historical and current photos of each location and textual information about each featured stop on the tours.

For more than 20 years, Key West artist, writer and historical researcher Sharon Wells, published in hard copy the popular Key West Walking Biking Guide, and designed the vibrant, eye-catching covers. Wells printed 100,000 guides each year and distributed them for free, earning income from advertising sales within the guide.

Given the advances in technology, and the public's unflagging dependence on their smartphone devices, Wells last year teamed up with local tech-guru Teresa Willis to take the Key West Walking Guide digital.

Wells authored the text of the tours, took current photos of each featured location and compiled the historical research on the 30 or so stops featured on each of the seven tours. Willis developed and designed the user-friendly and eye-catching app from scratch to ensure that it operated as easily as she wanted.

"I had to come up with the way it behaves," Willis said, opening the Mallory Square tour on her iPad, and watching as a series of digital pins falls into place along a map of the city's waterfront. The numbered pins each represent a stop on the Mallory Square walking tour, and when touched, the photos and textual information about that stop appears on an iPad or phone. And once a pin has been clicked, it changes color so users know which places they have already visited.

The map in the application also shows the user where they are (as long as their location setting is enabled on their device), so they can easily navigate the city's streets to reach their destination.

There are about 65 Key West-based apps, including those for local banks, law enforcement agencies and other businesses, Willis said.

"As far as tour apps go, this is definitely the most comprehensive and historic," Wells said, adding that the app includes about 30 stops on each of the seven tours, more than 700 photos and in-depth information about sites that include the Key West Lighthouse, Hemingway House, Mallory Square, Truman Annex and hundreds of other points of interest.

The seven tours that are included in the $7.99 price of the app take visitors through: Mallory Square, Fleming Street, Southard Street, Truman Annex, Whitehead Street, a Literary Tour and the Harborwalk/Caroline Street area.

Despite the large number of photos included in the app, the download and installation time is less than a minute, Willis said, because instead of loading all of the images onto someone's device, which would eat up a great deal of their memory, the photos are streamed into the user's phone whenever they access the Walking Guide app.

"And they have access to those forever," Willis said.

Future updates of the application will include links to businesses or organizations that are featured on the app, Willis said, adding that in the future, stops like the Green Parrot may choose to include a link to the legendary bar on the app for a small fee.

Most of the fascinating historical photos are from the Monroe County Library's archives, which have been painstakingly scanned into the library's database and are available for free to the public.

"It's an absolutely amazing resource that we have here with the library, and they're available at www.keyslibraries.org," Wells said.

She and Willis came up with the $7.99 price for the app after determining that most applications cost about $1.

"And with this, they're getting seven tours in one app," she said.

"We really want locals to know about it, so they can have it on their phones when company comes, and then have their guests download it so they can explore the city on their own at their own pace," Willis said, adding that the application "remembers" the stops that have already been visited, so users can stop and start whenever they choose.

For a preview of the application, tours and photos, visit the corresponding website at www.walkbikeguide.com, which was also designed by Willis. The website soon will offer prints of Wells' beloved Walking Guide covers for sale online, and additional tours will be developed to explore the island city's Afro-Bahamian heritage and other historical aspects.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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