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Backendless Spotlight – Tacoma Japantown Walking Tour
June 19, 2019 by Chris Fanchi

In this edition of Backendless Spotlight, we visit the Pacific Northwest where a group of local leaders have created an app to guide tourists through an historically significant part of Tacoma, Washington, known as Japantown. The app provides a map with important landmarks and places of interest, historic and modern photos of each location, and links to essays and notes compiled by historian Michael Sullivan and writer Tamiko Nimura. You can download the app on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Tacoma Japantown Walking Tour Backendless Spotlight

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know have an app using Backendless and would like to be considered for a future Backendless Spotlight, we want to hear from you! Send us an email with a link to the app or website and a description of how Backendless has helped them be successful.

About Tacoma Japantown Walking Tour

Nihonmachi (Japantown) was a vibrant immigrant neighborhood in downtown Tacoma, Washington, from the 1880’s to the 1940’s. The thriving community became a ghost town almost overnight during World War II when much of its population was forced into internment camps. The Tacoma Japantown Walking Tour App helps tourists and locals relive the history of the early-20th century Japanese American population in Tacoma. The app offers maps to guide visitors through places of interest and content (both inside the app and through external links) to inform the user about the sites they visit. Users can see side-by-side images of each location, comparing what the site once looked like to how it looks today.

History Brought to Life Through Backendless

The Tacoma Japantown Walking Tour app is designed to be a static app – that is, the developers did not build it with the intent to regularly release updates. The key to a successful static app is to put as little of your content in the client application as possible, because you don’t want the content to get stale, outdated, or worse, be inaccurate but very difficult to change. Thus, the Backendless File Service API is of significant importance. Rather than saving data in the client app, a static app will store the data – images, content, video and audio files, etc. – in the backend. Then, when the user opens the app and navigates through it, the data is populated. By taking this approach, the developers can easily make quick fixes to the app’s content on the fly, and every user will receive the latest information virtually every time.

The only drawback to this approach is that it makes the app dependent upon having an online connection, either via cellular data or wifi. This is where caching becomes important. The developers can use caching on the client-side to store data that the user receives from the backend. When the app is connected to a network, the cache can be cleared and new data populated. But when the device is offline, the app still functions by displaying the cached data.

While the past doesn’t change, new history can be uncovered or even made at any time. In order to ensure that the app stays up-to-date with the latest information about Japantown, the developers of the Walking Tour app are using Custom Business Logic, now known as Cloud Code, to regularly check for updates. Within Backendless, they have created a Java function that checks for new posts. If any are found, they are added to the database so users will have the latest information when planning or taking their walking tour.

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