New smartphone app designed to help users discover downtown Phoenix

The SmartPHX application can be installed onto any smartphone and is free to use. (Evie Carpenter/DD)

A group of Walter Cronkite School students have developed a smartphone application designed to help downtown Phoenicians and visitors alike navigate the sixth-largest city in the country.

The SmartPHX phone application launched last week — just in time for the MLB All-Star Game — and can be used to find open restaurants, attractions, and events located specifically in the downtown Phoenix area. The application uses geocoding technology to display the closest attractions to a user and uses green and red lights to demonstrate what businesses are open or closed.

The students who launched the idea of the smart phone application were part of the New Media Innovation Lab at the Cronkite School. Within the lab, students tend to the needs of clients and work to pioneer new media ventures.

The students involved came together from very different backgrounds. Design students worked on the layout and computer science students created the application.

“It’s not a visual medium but with this project I was allowed to use my creativity for something practical,” said Spring Eselgroth, who is pursuing a master’s degree at the Cronkite School.

Retha Hill, director of the New Media Innovation Lab, said it was a long process putting everything together, requiring a lot of effort from the students who had never created a phone application before.

“There were concepts they had never dealt with and aspects that they never considered, such as how many clicks to get to something,” Hill said.

The students went through a process of gathering data to find what the public wanted, Hill said. The process included visiting every restaurant in downtown Phoenix, taking pictures and writing reviews, and finding public parking.

“We had to learn how to be innovative and think outside the box, collaborate and work with clients who have expectations,” Eselgroth said.

The project began in the fall of 2010 when the developers of CityScape expressed an interest in helping people discover what downtown Phoenix has to offer to residents and visitors.

“You have to learn how to communicate with developers, a bridge you have to cross over fluently,” Eselgroth said.

Mark Ng, lead web application developer at the New Media Innovation Lab, said the process of developing a community-oriented smartphone app has been helpful for students and provided them a way to experience non-traditional journalism.

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