Business: Checking Chatham Tides With Grandfather-inspired Tide Guide App Maker
By: Elizabeth Van Wye
Wondering if the time is right to go clamming, or if there is enough water to get your boat through the Stage Harbor cut?
The answer lies in the tides: low tide for clamming and high tide for boating the cut. "Tide Guide," an iPhone application with those answers, was created by Tucker MacDonald whose Chatham ties include memories of consulting the tide guides on fishing trips with his grandfather in the waters around Chatham.
"When I went fishing with my grandfather off Monomoy he always checked the tide tables," MacDonald recalled. Local water levels can vary as much as several feet between high and low tides. The guides, printed and copied, were essential reading to avoid going aground when venturing in shallow waters.
Four and a half years ago, MacDonald, a film studies graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, had been working in Hollywood for a while, including for a season on the hit series "Glee." Returning to Chatham for the summer, he again consulted the tide charts. He had always loved technology and realized that there wasn't an app that provided the kind of information the tide chart provided, and more, in a "beautiful, functional and interesting way."
MacDonald started to work on an iPhone-based app, which he called "Tide Guide." Crammed with information and schedules on tides locally and worldwide, "Tide Guide" didn't get much attention for the first two years," MacDonald said.
As users provided him with input, he refined and updated the information to make the app more robust. The guide became available for the iPhone, the iPad and the Mac. Last spring, he added Apple Watch capability to the app and that has become "really popular," he said. Apple Watch is water resistant while phones are notoriously not, so having the tide information on the wrist of a boater or fisherman was a real plus, he said.
Apple Watch aficionados are familiar with the concept of widgets, little graphic symbols that provide key information on the face of the watch without having to access the app itself. Adding widgets was "a big plus on the water," MacDonald said.
The next update to the "Tide Guide" app is expected to include access to weather and surf conditions.
"Tide Guide" is available on the App Store as a free app for the iPhone, providing four days of tide tables including times and heights as well as graphs for stations including locally Chatham harbor, Pleasant Bay and Nantucket Sound to name a few. The premium version of the app permits access to the Apple Watch features, the widgets and a month’s worth of tide tables.
The tide information in "Tide Guide" comes from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, MacDonald said. Since the app is used by more than 20,000 people worldwide, having the information provided by government agencies in each country ensures accuracy, he added.
"In Britain, having the information sourced from the UK Hydrographic Office solved a problem," he said. "It is the most accurate information.
While US users are the largest group of customers, MacDonald said, the app has been downloaded in the UK, Malaysia and Thailand, "really all over." He estimates the app has been downloaded 150,000 times and that there are 20,000 active users.
These users are key to the increasing functionality of the app, MacDonald said.
"A lot of features were driven by feedback and reviews on the app,” he said. “Our user base is passionate and vocal, helping us develop an ever-evolving app. As people use it, we build those features into the app."
MacDonald is now full-time in the business of app design. He still comes to Chatham in the summer; this year "Tide Guide" had a float in Chatham's Fourth of July parade. One of the several other apps he is working on is "Source: A Specialty Coffee Guide" which he describes as "Yelp for specialty coffee."
He enjoys the challenges of app design. "I'm always curious and like to learn new things. I enjoy finding problems to solve."
For more information on the app go to tideguideapp.com.