Today’s release of the gorgeous City Guides by National Geographic mobile app showcases the perfect marriage of expansive content, a high level of attention to detail and polish, and the flexibility of MapBox’s platform, all in one package.

We recently got in touch with Jess Elder, Senior Product Manager at National Geographic, as well as Thomas Cooke, Ben Cline, and Adam Luptak at Rally Interactive, the talented shop behind the app, for a little Q&A about the app, its development, and their use of MapBox along the way.


MapBox: Tell us about the app and why you made it.

Cooke: The app essentially provides travel planning content and utility features for four of the world’s most iconic cities – London, Paris, Rome, and New York – and is based on a series of award-winning guidebooks that National Geographic has been publishing for years.

There are plenty of features and content for users to get a feel for what the app has to offer. Users can then purchase individual guides loaded with insider content from National Geographic’s editorial team like What to Do, Food Scene recommendations, Secrets, and more.

Maps are of course essential to the experience. We made this app in a partnership with National Geographic and started working on it shortly after we launched last year’s National Parks by National Geographic.

“Being able to customize map tiles with MapBox was crucial in getting the desired outcome.”

Ben Cline, Rally Interactive

MapBox: Maps are featured really prominently in the app. What were your design goals with adding a map and why did you feel you needed a custom map?

Cooke: Indeed, maps are central to the app. Most of the content and functionality is tied to the map piece. There were a few reasons why we were attracted to MapBox, but it really came down to a mutual decision between us and our partners at National Geographic. Besides being a digital producer, Jess has a background in cartography. The decision to use MapBox goes deeper than just a design decision, but we certainly love the flexibility for custom design.

Cline: We wanted the app to embody a modern look and feel. To accomplish this, we needed to use a muted color palette accented by a couple of highly saturated hues. Being able to customize map tiles with MapBox was crucial in getting the desired outcome.

MapBox: What were the good parts of using the MapBox iOS SDK and what were the hard parts? What about with our hosted map service?

Luptak: Both the greatest strength and biggest challenge was the freedom that the MapBox iOS SDK’s open source nature allowed us. By starting from the release version, we were able to capitalize on the ability to pull customized map tiles from the MapBox service and cache them for offline use, and then build on top of that to achieve the customized interface we wanted with things like custom pins and unorthodox callouts. The combination of the customization tools for map styling and the ability to modify the SDK allowed us to present users with a unique, fully custom map, integrated with the visual style of the app.

“The ability to modify the SDK allowed us to present users with a unique, fully custom map, integrated with the visual style of the app.”

Adam Luptak, Rally Interactive

MapBox: Anything else about MapBox’s technology or about the app that you’d like to mention?

Elder: Building on National Geographic’s tradition of cartography, photography, and publishing, we seek to meld armchair traveling with functional utility in our apps. With our partners at Rally Interactive, we’ve finally been able to take travel apps to new heights of elegance and quality, while keeping the user experience simple and informative. Coupling National Geographic’s content and storytelling with Rally Interactive’s brilliant design and development atop MapBox’s customizable map tiles and solid service, we feel this app really creates a useful and beautiful utility for the urban traveler.


You can download the app now or, if you’re a developer, you can dive right into our tools and start making beautiful maps today!

Have a great app that you’ve built using MapBox? Get in touch with us or feel free to message me directly on Twitter or App Dot Net.