Kyle Parker, designer and lead developer of The Traveler app says, “Success in the tech space is not only the ability to create something useful and practical, but you have to make cool and fun.” Well Kyle, we believe you have achieved this! The Traveler app started out as a tool for students at Ball State University in architecture and planning to document, capture and record their experiences on field study trips. Now, this app has visited six continents and more than 35 countries, recording over 100,000 miles of traveled paths. With over 100K downloads from Google Play, The Traveler is gaining popularity in the travel world. The Traveler has received recognition from Google and Lonely Planet, and awards like the Campus Technology Innovators Award and the TechPoint Mira Award. With the recent launch of their new version complete with premium features, The Traveler Pass and companion website, this is one app that you should include in your travel arsenal.
What is The Traveler?
The Traveler is a road-tested mobile app, along with a companion website, designed for globe-trotting tourists to casual vacationers who struggle to capture, organize and share their travel experiences. The app offers fitness and activity tracking with Google Fit integration, Android Wear support for quick and easy access to features from your wrist, and the opportunity to discover over 9000 “guides nearby” from our partner, GuideAdvisor.com.
Organize your travels, with paths following your every footstep. Along the way, photos, videos, audio clips, notes and sketches are geotagged on the path, capturing everything you see and do. Additional information like descriptions and placename ensure you won’t easily forget all of the amazing places you’ve visited.
How is The Traveler different from other platforms or applications?
Since our launch in the fall of 2012, The Traveler has been focused on the user and their experiences while traveling. Originally developed for students at Ball State University, the app has traveled with over 150 students and faculty to all seven continents and 40 countries, while recording over a million miles of paths and capturing over 25,000 photos and other media. The students, along with feedback from our worldwide user base, are responsible for many of the features, functionality, and overall experience of The Traveler.
Our partnership with GuideAdvisor also sets up apart from other travel journals. Travelers can easily find, learn about, and ultimately book a guide from the app based on their location and interests. Other apps on the market lack integration with Google Fit, which provides step counts, activity recognition (biking, walking, running, etc), and quick access to commonly used features from their Android Wear watch. These are all great bits of information to accompany your travels to provide that extra level of detail.
From a social perspective, the companion site for The Traveler is focused on the trip and your experiences. It’s not cluttered with political commentary, cute cat videos, or random personality quizzes like you would find on other social media platforms. Plus, just because you travel with someone doesn’t mean you want to be “friends” with them on other platforms – with The Traveler, you can easily keep your travel life on social media separate from your personal, day-to-day life.
Since the app was created at Ball State University, do students and staff have exclusive features and will they become available to other college and universities in the future?
Yes, our students and faculty have full and free access to The Traveler Pass – a paid feature we just launched for our travelers around the world, as well as the companion website. Using The Traveler Pass, users have the ability to upload their trips, paths and media to our website, allowing them to view, edit, and share their experiences with family and friends.
In terms of launching The Traveler at other universities, this is something Mark (my longtime friend and co-founder) and I have discussed, and we would love to see the app used for other university-based field trips and study abroad programs. Over the past several years at Ball State, I, along with our tremendously supportive faculty and students, have shown how valuable the app can be in the university setting – including a book chapter in “Mobile Media Learning: Innovation and Inspiration” from ETC Press, published by Carnegie Mellon University; a Campus Technology Innovators Award in 2015; and numerous national and international conference presentations and news articles. While the app is currently available only for Android, Mark and I are planning an iOS release in the future, which will make it even more appealing to university communities.
Why did you decide to only have the app available for Android and will The Traveler be available for iPhone in the future?
When I first started learning how to build mobile apps, I needed to replace my aging Windows Mobile phone. At the time, the iPhone was still an AT&T exclusive, and as a Verizon customer, an Android phone was my only choice. Then, a couple of years later, Google provided a blueprint for an Android app called MyTracks. That app would later serve as the foundation for what would become The Traveler.
While at the university, the focus of the app was for our students – we loaned them an Android-based tablet free of charge, so it was an easy way to get them using The Traveler, and we achieved great success on the Android platform. Obviously now that the app is available for the general public, an iOS version is at the top of our priority list. We do not currently have a release date for the iOS version, but travelers can follow us on social media and check our website for updates and the latest news about The Traveler.
This year you volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club. What did you learn from that experience and how do you apply what you learned to your personal and professional life?
As an IT guy at Ball State, I routinely work with our students to create and develop apps, but this was my first real “teaching” experience, not to mention with a group of children much younger than the college students. It was a great time – I enjoyed seeing the children at the Club get really excited about technology and what they could do with it. During one of the sessions, I brought a couple pairs of Google Glass (wearable technology from Google with a small screen about an inch from your eye), some Google Cardboard (low-cost virtual reality viewer), and a few smartwatches. The children loved them! They could not stop talking about how cool the tech was and everyone wanted to run out to the common area to tell all of their friends (there were a lot of selfies taken that day).
From a personal perspective, it reminded me that success in the tech space is not only the ability to create something useful and practical, but you have to make cool and fun! People need to want and love using your tech, whether it is an app or a gadget. The experience was also great to simply give back – for years I had been surrounded with all of this technology, and to some degree had probably taken it for granted. To watch those children react to things they had only seen on TV or online was a good reality-check, and something I’ve kept in the back of my mind as I continue forward in my career.
You have received a few awards and recognitions for The Traveler. Which one has meant the most to you and why?
As a mobile developer, by far the recognition that has meant the most is the attention the app received from Google. Back in 2013, The Traveler appeared as a staff pick on the Google Play store three times that summer, and also made an appearance at Google I/O – the company’s annual developer conference. With over 2 million apps in the Play store, for someone at Google to not only find the app, but deem it worthy of appearing in a “top picks” section is pretty amazing (much less three times). I’ll never forget the first time I saw our red “Tr” icon show up on the main screen of the storefront – it was really cool! Then, a few months later, walking through the conference hall at I/O, I just happened to look over at the Google Play for Education booth and saw a familiar icon alongside apps from Rosetta Stone and NASA. That was a really good year, and that exposure is the reason we hit amassed over 100,000 downloads for the app.
You have been working in the tech space for over 15 years. What do you like the most about the tech space?
As a young kid, I loved playing with Legos and always tried to build something really cool and fun – which typically meant throwing out the step-by-step instruction guide and doing my own thing with the pile of multicolored bricks. Equally important during my childhood was the computer my dad brought home when I was in the fourth grade (this was 1987, a couple of years before most college-age freshmen were even born). I can remember spending countless hours trying to figure that thing out and learn all I could about this amazing new piece of technology. That love for building and technology continued to grow throughout my childhood, and during high school I had made up my mind to attend Ball State and enroll in the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) and double major in architecture and computer science.
When the time came to talk to my adviser about double majoring, she told me I was crazy – CAP was a full-time commitment and taking classes for two completely different subjects was not a good idea. After the first semester of my freshman year, I transferred over to computer science – my love for technology ultimately won. In retrospect, the decision made sense – instead of creating, design and building structures in the physical environment, I simply transitioned those skills, creativity, and passions to the technological environment.
Sixteen years later, I am still just as fascinated with technology as when I was a fourth-grader. I have never regretted the decision to switch majors, and am thankful for all of the opportunities I’ve had as an IT professional to immerse myself in this world of tech and gadgets.
After having a rough day at work, what do you like to do to unwind and clear your mind?
Since I’m surrounded by technology all day, the best way I’ve found to unwind is to disconnect myself. It’s a challenge at times to put down the phone, take off the smartwatch, and just get away from it, but ultimately it feels great. Coupled with disconnecting is getting out and being active. Whether a weekend camping trip, a long ride on my bike, or hiking the trails with my family, being outdoors is a welcomed distraction from the constant beeping of notifications and the glare of a computer screen.
What key piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to create their first app?
Creating an app is the easy part – the tools, training and technology are abundant online. Anyone with the interest and determination can easily find the resources needed to build a great looking and functional app. The hard part is finding success as an app developer. For that, the best advice is to study your competition and find out not only what makes their app great, but what makes it possible for you to create something better. Does the app offer a poor user experience? What do people say about it in the app stores and online? What critical feature is missing that you can deliver? Then once you’ve created something better than your competition, you have to find a way to get it in front of people – a great app is only great if people download it. This part is tough – it takes great connections, a great story, and a lot of luck to have the right person see it at the right time.
What new features can TWIP readers look forward to in the future?
This year has been another great year for The Traveler – after three years as a university property, the app is now owned by 14Eleven Development LLC, a startup founded by myself and my longtime friend, Mark Caravello. Creating our own company has been a dream for many years, and the app offered a great excuse to finally make it happen.
At the end of August, we launched the first phase our brand-new version, complete with our premium features The Traveler Pass and companion website. The initial launch includes the ability to upload trips, media, and paths from the mobile device to the cloud, where the traveler, their friends, and family can view the experience at mytravelerapp.com. The next version will expand upon the idea of sharing a trip, and allow users to invite others to join them as they travel – creating a composite, multifaceted experience seen through the eyes of everyone on the trip. The website will also allow travelers to upload photos from their digital camera, edit content, and import paths and markers for all the places they want to visit, before the trip begins.
How often have you visited a new place and wish you had asked your friends where to eat, what to see or where to go? We plan to address this problem with a new feature we’re working on – the ability for travelers to leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs for others to find, long after their trip has ended. Personal reviews and markers from family and friends will help you find that perfect restaurant, the must-see place in a city, the secret to skipping lines, the right time to beat the crowds, and countless other travel hints. Rather than relying on reviews and recommendations from random strangers (or paid reviewers masquerading as a normal tourist), The Traveler will offer a way to revisit places based on people you trust and who have similar interests and tastes.
We hope to have this second round of features available in the coming months – keep an eye on social media for more info!
More facts about Kyle:
De-Stress Technique: Getting outside like camping, hiking, biking and yard work.
Latest Gadget: Moto Z with Instaprojector MotoMod projects up to a 70” screen anywhere with just the phone. It’s great for showing off those trip!
Favorite App: Twitter is my go to source for news and what’s going on.
Favorite Travel Brand: Airbnb is my favorite. My wife and I have stayed with and met some interesting people over the years.
Next Vacation Destination: No immediate plans, but either the lake in Michigan or the beach in North Carolina. I need to see some water!