Industry: Leisure, Travel.
Location: Seattle, Washington, the U.S.
Project duration: January 2018 – Ongoing.
Size of the project team: 7 experts.
Software products: Mobile app, web content management system for mobile app.
Expertise delivered: Custom software development, Mobile apps development services, Web development services.
Space Needle is an observation tower in Seattle, WA, the U.S. The construction of the tower was completed in 1961, and it has since become a must-see landmark in the State of Washington. Approximately 1.3 million guests visit the Space Needle per year, and over 60 million visitors have visited the tower since it was inaugurated.
In January of 2018, a long-term client of ours approached us to build a mobile application for the Space Needle tower.
The client’s mobile application allows users to add tickets to the app and receive complimentary digital photos delivered directly to their mobile device. They can then download and share photos on social media instantly.
The app uses Augmented Reality, 4D, and other camera effects. Among some other features are the ability to connect a camera or device by using Wi-Fi or an API/Webhook system, support of multimedia content, including texts, videos, images, AR content, and panoramic images, as well as the usage of QR codes, bar codes, location data, user interface buttons, and save visitor data. Our app can connect to the ticketing system to share information about tickets and visitors in conjunction with GuestX.
The goal of the app was to improve the attendance numbers for Space Needle, as well as enhance the visitor experience and increase engagement. The mobile app was planned to introduce new user experiences and provide a convenient way for visitors to get their photos and videos from Space Needle.
Without the mobile app, the visitor flow was not so smooth. A conventional photographer was hired to take photos. After visiting the Space Needle, visitors provided their contact information through a touch screen at the exit and received their photos by email. Introducing the mobile app automated this process, while adding Augmented Reality features.
Overall, we delivered custom software development, mobile app development, and web development to build a mobile app and web content management system for it.
We started completely from scratch, without any previous code or legacy applications. Our team handled both the actual development of the mobile application and Content Management System in their entirety.
To achieve these goals, we joined forces with our client (and, more specifically, their product owner, who was the Vice President of Engineering at the Space Needle). Our other contacts on the client’s side included the client’s CTO, COO, managers, and engineering managers.
The initial deadline for the project was six to seven months. The client wanted to launch the completed app as soon as possible.
Initially, our team consisted of two mobile developers working with React Native and one Quality Assurance expert. As the project progressed and we needed to kick off the development of the CMS, we added a project manager, another quality assurance engineer, a Java developer, and a full-stack developer. During a certain period of time, another Java developer was part of the project team, but the core team that delivered the product totaled 7 people.
As for management tools, Jira + Confluence was picked as the most popular solution on the market and the one that everyone had experience working with. The communication inside the project team was organized using elements of SCRUM, such as daily standups and weekly planning. The project’s product development process can be considered as hybrid SCRUM, as it didn’t include some of the elements of SCRUM, like, for example, story points-based cost estimations or velocity and capacity charts. We excluded some of the elements in order to expedite the development.
Our project manager conducted daily communication with the client, while the rest of the project team was in contact with them and provided demos on a weekly basis. Occasionally, when this was required, our project team discussed the requirements with the client more often than once a week.
To be able to interact remotely with Space Needle’s media system and have the APIs updated during mobile development, we also communicated with a third-party vendor, GuestX. GuestX interacted directly with the system’s cameras, a ticketing system, and all photo- and video-related functionality on-site.
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The bulk of the project’s tech stack was proposed by our project team because we had years of experience and numerous projects delivered by using this tech stack.
The chosen tech stack included the following technologies that didn’t change throughout the course of the development:
Backend: Java 8, Spring, Hibernate
DB: MySQL 5.7
Mobile: React Native, Unity
Frameworks: React Native, Angular, Spring
State Management: Redux
Test Frameworks: Selenium
DevOps: Docker, Webpack
Computing: Google Cloud
In implementing the project, we had to meet a stringent deadline.
Besides, our team had to deal with a couple of tricky technical challenges. One of them was the Panorama feature — a view from the highest point of the Space Needle tower. The visitor must be able to see a 360° panorama of Seattle through the app with added pins pointing to places of interest, like for example, restaurants or museums. React Native didn’t support a 360° view, so we had to connect hundreds of photos to make this function work the way it was envisioned by the client.
Integrating Augmented Reality into the React Native application posed a major challenge too because the AR functionality used Unity. To connect React Native with Unity, we needed to code a native bridge by using the programming language Swift. To make this happen, we added native developers to our project team for a couple of weeks. Developing the bridge was quite time-consuming, but we managed to live up to the client’s expectations and delivered the required functionality.
The Space Needle app actively tracks geolocation data in the background, which was the reason why the placement at the App store had previously been denied multiple times. We managed to discuss all the details with Apple and resolve the issue within a week’s time, uploaded the app with all the available functions, and made it available for downloading.
The first release of a fully functional version of the client’s mobile application that included all the basic features took place in July of 2018. The client was pleased with the result, both in terms of the UI/UX design and the app’s functionality. The internal user acceptance testing (UAT) phase began immediately after the application’s release. The mobile app was soon launched for visitors, and we provided a 2-month guarantee period. Four months later, the client requested our team to expand the application with some new features and make it even more stable, which led to the second release of the app.
The client’s mobile application is capable of collecting metadata from events so that business analysts can analyze the user experience. It can also collect metadata related to the performance of the app. All the metadata is transferred to Google Analytics.
The Space Needle app is currently available on Apple Store and Play Market. In the year of launch, it was downloaded almost 1,000,000 times for both iOS and Android, becoming very popular with the Space Needle’s visitors.
Space Needle was impressed with our mobile app development services and offered us another project.
As of early 2023, an entirely different team from our side is working on the complete redesign of the Space Needle’s media platform, ticketing system, and software for physical devices. Additionally, we proposed redesigning a legacy app the client uses for internal purposes. As a result, our project team is currently handling this task too.
We’ve become the client’s single provider of software development services for the project under review.
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