SAFETY FIRST. The Tour Blend app can be highly absorbing. Do not drive while using the app. To avoid bumping into people or things when walking (or having them bump into you!), it’s best to stop to see notifications, read entries, and look at site photos and other content closely. If another notification interrupts your reading, consider it a good reminder to slow down.  Take time to look up from your device to engage the world and to be aware of what’s around you. Looking at your phone doesn’t raise the “tourist” flag like fumbling with a guidebook or a map does, but don’t become a target for mischief by appearing out of place and distracted. Be extra careful after dark, and explore with friends whenever possible–it’s more fun that way.

USING THE APP. Allowing location services and notifications for the Tour Blend app is essential if you want to do more than simply read the content like a guidebook, as many of the app’s features, including automatically triggered audio tours, rely on these services. With these services enabled, using the Tour Blend app should be easy and intuitive.

There are three navigation tabs at the bottom of the screen, “About”, “Discover” and “Active”.  Here’s how to use the “Discover” and “Active” tabs.

Discover. Use the “Discover” tab to find and peruse tours and sites. Tapping “Nearby Tours” or “Nearby Sites” will reveal the tours and sites closest to you – simply touch to open and view, and return to the list by using the back arrow in the upper left corner of the screen. The other choices on the Discover screen lead to themed lists of tours, with the nearest tours located at the top of the lists.

Once a tour is open, simply touch the map to expand it, pinch or spread to zoom in and out, and touch any pin on the map to view the site content. Or just tap sites on the list directly below the map. The “Search” bar at the top of the Discover screen allows you to find sites by name.

When you touch a pin on the map, the pin photo will become larger, and show the name of the site along with the distance from your current location.  Tap the distance to get turn-by-turn directions to the site.  Tap the site name to see the site content, which may include text, web links, photos, and an audio clip.

You can stop and start the audio clip using the arrow key at the lower left.

Tap the text snippet to view the entire description.  Tap the blue web links for videos and other on-line content.  Return to the Tour Blend app using the small arrow at the upper left of the screen.

Tap any of the photos for a full screen view.   You can pinch to zoom in and out.  Swipe right or left to view other photos included in the site content.  Swipe up to return to the main site view.

Active.  Use the “Active” tab when you’re out exploring. Each tour has an “Activate” button just under the cover photo, and touching that button makes that tour “active” on your phone, so that audio clips and other content will be automatically played when you near each site on your tour.

Touching the Active tab will show all the sites in “active” tours on the map, and you’ll receive a notification any time you pass within about 100 feet of any of them. You can activate multiple tours at the same time. You may notice a slight slowdown in performance when you have many tours active at once. To deactivate a tour, just open it and tap the Active button again – the sites for that tour will disappear from the active map.

Once a tour is active, the app will notify you only the first time you pass close to each site on the tour, so you won’t get repeat alerts about the same place. To make all the sites on a tour “live” again, simply deactivate and reactivate the tour.

 

Battery, data and memory use.

The Tour Blend app is designed to be as battery-efficient as possible, but using it intensively in the “active” mode will drain the phone battery faster than usual, just as with any GPS-enabled app. If your phone gets low on power, you can deactivate all tours to slow the battery draw and use the app in Discover mode.

On the data and memory front, it’s all about the images and audio recordings. All the text loads with the app—it’s hundreds of pages, but doesn’t use much memory. Since images and audio files take up much more memory, the app is designed to download them only when the associated tours are opened. It will keep loading images and audio files into memory until it hits a set limit. When another tour is opened and the added image and audio content will exceed that limit, the app automatically deletes the images and audio files used least, to make room for the new ones. This feature allows the app to present images and audio clips quickly,  while not overloading the phone’s memory.

As with all apps, images and audio content load fastest with a strong signal. Using WiFi to download images and audio content before use in the field will provide the best performance, while also lessening the draw on wireless data plans.

As you know, smart phones aren’t infallible. If the cell signal is weak, it may take a while for images and audio content to download, or for sites to show up on the map. If you’re downtown amidst tall buildings, GPS may occasionally be (wildly) inaccurate. As technology continues to improve, so will performance of the Tour Blend app. In the meantime, using patience and careful attention is the best approach.