Move over Pokémon Go. Fly away Flappy Bird and Angry Birds. Kick Candy Crush to the curb.
You won’t need those old exercise-killing apps for entertainment anymore, now that Guilford County government is getting into the phone and mobile device app business, with a new app that county officials hope will get you outside.
The county’s first ever mobile app will be a Guilford County parks app that will provide, among other services, searchable information on county park trails, facilities, events and amenities as well as GPS-based smartphone tools for those who want to hike or ride through the county’s parks and preserves.
Guilford County expects to offer additional mobile applications for a range of county services after the parks app is released.
The app for park users will integrate GPS mapping information that Guilford County staff has been collecting for a new database of parks, trails and amenities, and it will be designed to allow park goers to do things such as, say, find all parks within a certain distance from them that have paddleboats, a horseshoe game and a dog park. It will also provide users with the exact distances of trails as well as the difficulty levels. Once on the trail, hikers, bikers or equestrians will be able to see where they are on it and, say, where the closest restroom is. The app will include a wealth of other information for those with park-related interests other than hiking.
Guilford County Chief Information Officer Hemant Desai and his information technology staff is working with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the Guilford County Facilities, Parks and Property Management Department staff to put together the app that will be for iPhone and Android users – and even, eventually, for the lowly and oft neglected Windows Phone users.
“The majority of smartphones are IOS or android,” Desai said, adding that once the app is completed for those two platforms it won’t be difficult to port it to mobile Windows devices. So it makes sense, he said, to create the Windows version even though the Windows mobile platform is only a small share of the smartphone market. Desai uses an iPhone 6 and a Microsoft Surface tablet for his work – and the coming park app will work on both of those devices.
The coming mobile app will be powered largely by a searchable database of park, trail and amenity information that includes hours of operations and recreational opportunities.
A new web-based park information database version of the service will also be available for those using desktop computers. That online database should be up and running on the county’s website within a few weeks, with the county’s mobile app to follow, though no release date is set yet for that app.
Guilford County Geographic Information Systems Manager Stephen Dew said that, years ago, Guilford County had a web-based service for desktop computers that provided county parks information – helping users find appropriate parks by clicking a series of checkboxes that described what they were looking for. However, Dew said, that database wasn’t kept up over the years and county staff eventually took the tool down.
He said that, in preparing for the launch of the new web service and the mobile app, one of the things that needed to happen first was that Guilford County staff had to bring all the parks information up to date. He said that, to provide the content used in the mobile app, county staff had to map, mark and categorize all of the amenities and attractions at the parks and preserves. Some of the information the county had on hand was out of date and the new mapping will include GPS information.
Dew said that this year much of the effort that has gone into the app has entailed walking the trails – or in some cases driving them – while taking along modern GPS mapping equipment that registers the exact coordinates of the route. Dew said that Guilford County Passive Parks Program Manager Matt Wallace has been handling much of those duties.
Those walking the trails will also be able to check the difficulty of the trail – for instance, those with steep slopes and rugged terrain will be noted by the app.
Hemant said Guilford County citizens have been asking for a variety of mobile apps that provide easy access to county services and information, and he added that his staff had been pushing for more Guilford County mobile apps of various sorts. He said that, over the next year or two, citizens can expect to see more mobile apps pertaining to services.
“We really haven’t even scratched the surface,” Desai said.
He said that county officials haven’t determined what the next app after the parks app will be, but he said citizens can expect several new mobile apps that provide easier access to county services.
Guilford County Facilities, Parks and Property Management Director Rob McNiece said he hopes the parks app will help citizens discover recreation opportunities offered by the county.
“Say you are looking for a dog park,” McNiece said. “A lot of folks don’t know that there is a dog park at Southwest [Park].”
He added, “It will also allow you to look at the trail system and see if that is a hard trail or is that an easy trail.”
Several of those working on the project said that, while the first park content for the app will be limited to Guilford County parks and preserves, they hope to eventually include information for Greensboro and High Point parks and other parks in the region.
“No one cares whether it’s city or county – they just want a park,” McNiece said.
McNiece said that creating the county’s first mobile app is taking some time.
“We’re not Apple,” McNiece said in the understatement of the year.