In our instant gratification-style world we often lose sight of the time, thought and effort that is needed to build or develop the technology we enjoy. Our particular labour of love – TheTreeApp – took far longer to develop than many may think. We began building it close on eight years ago and we have had testers in the field for the past six years. Our vision for the app was to show features that can be recognised by both botanists and lay people, that are easy to see and always present, regardless of the season.
We were initially faced with a bit of a dilemma. It was really not easy to find good quality digital photos of all the listed trees, that were sufficiently detailed and accurate. While photographs would have been lovely to include, we made the decision to proceed with composite drawings that allowed us to firstly show all features of the plant, including leaf, flower and fruit; and secondly allowed us to establish a uniform look and feel throughout the app.
TheTreeApp was ready for launch in time for Spring 2017 – a beautiful interactive, digital encyclopaedia covering 979 indigenous and 136 invasive alien trees in South Africa. In the six months since then we have committed to making ongoing improvements based on feedback from our users and our own wish-lists. While we know our users love the drawings, we also realise that photographs are very useful in identifying the trees, so we are steadily introducing photographic material – as fast as our small team can do so. These enhancements have placed us in the position to launch a significant upgrade, in late March, incorporating over 1200 photos covering 450 of the trees listed in the app, as well as new art for flowers and improved Sightings data capture.
Our cheerful photographic quest continues, and we hope to announce further massive upgrades both midyear and by the end of 2018 that will cover the remaining trees. As all upgrades are free, this means your tree-identifying resource will just keep getting better and better. Users do need to stay on top of how the app works and be aware of all its features to get everything out of it that they possibly can. For example, knowing that there are two Search capabilities available – one being a Location Search of all trees within a 12,5 km radius of a chosen point; the other is the Smart Search function based on terms and features that can be easily understood and recognised.
We are excited that users have been so forthcoming with their feedback and we will continue to count on this for future improvements.