iNaturalist Mobile App Development News

We just wanted to update you about recent development decisions made for the iNaturalist mobile app.

The iOS version of iNaturalist’s mobile app was introduced in 2011, and the Android version was released in 2012. Since their inception, these apps have been designed and written specifically for their respective platforms, which has led to significant differences in both design and functionality between the iOS and Android versions of the iNaturalist app.

While there are advantages to having apps written in native code and design language to iOS and Android, there are also significant downsides. In iNaturalist’s case, these include:

  • Functional disparity, where some functionality is missing from one app or the other
  • Inconsistency in functionality, design, and workflows, which causes confusion
  • Complicated support, tutorials, and bug reporting
  • Specialized development - only a few people on our team can develop for these apps, and they also have other areas of responsibility, such as computer vision development

In 2018 we released Seek by iNaturalist, which we built with a cross-platform framework called React Native that targets both iOS and Android devices, and after a lot of discussion we’ve decided to go the same route with the standard iNaturalist app.

Doing so will allow us to develop and release new features on both platforms more quickly, and give both iOS and Android users a nearly identical experience when using the iNaturalist app. We’re hoping this will also allow us to address more systemic problems with translation, accessibility, and stability that we have with both of the existing native apps. We’re also hoping this will make it easier for volunteer developers to contribute code, as the barrier to entry is a little lower for React Native. We think this puts us in the best position to support and improve the app in the long term.

What does this mean going forward?

From a user’s perspective, not too much for now. However, after one or two new functionality updates and various small additions, we won’t be developing the current native Naturalist iOS and Android apps any further, aside from fixing bugs with the available functionality.

Behind the scenes, it’ll be a lot of design and coding work on our end, and we don’t anticipate releasing the new app publicly until after the 2022 City Nature Challenge. If you want to submit mobile app feature requests you may still do so, but it’s unlikely we’ll delve into them until then.

And to be clear, this only affects the standard iNaturalist mobile apps - Seek by iNaturalist is completely separate.

Thank you so much for your continued support.

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Seems to make a lot of sense. Do you sense this is a good opportunity to overhaul the look and feel of the iNat app, or will you be just focussed on reproducing the current offering in the new platform for now?

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This is interesting, it’s good updates are being made. Since this post mentioned coming updates may be the last to be made to the apps, I’d once more also recommend considering integrating reviewed photos (or a simplified version of them) and increasing overall speed, if not already part of the planning.

No, it will be great. iOS app has long lacked key functionalities, limiting the expected performance of those iNat users. This will be a huge step . I sense whatever downsides will be hugely outweighed by the gains.

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Awesome news! I’m a software developer by trade who got into iNat earlier this year thanks to friends. I’ve been curious about potentially contributing to the app for some time, but it’s been awhile since I’ve focused on any mobile development - this move definitely sounds like it will make things more accessible for people like me overall. I’ll keep an eye out for the new app for sure :-)

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I can’t say too much but a change in look and feel is defnitely on the table. Because everything has to be started from scratch we want to make sure the core functionality works well and we’ll see what we can add from there.

I assume that is related to identifying observations? Probably not something that would be considered until a dedicated Identify feature is ever part of the app.

That would be awesome, thanks!

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Somewhat. I didn’t know a dedicated Identify feature was being considered to add. So I just meant for the current way people view photos on the app and ID them, where they search from the map page and then view a list view (what I use) or grid view. The limitation is many of those are already identified by the user (the more so the more they ID). Adding a “reviewed” filter option (or some simplified version of it) would be to make those photos not display so they could all be new ones to ID.

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Welcome to the forum!
If you’re considering contributing, I created this post recently which might be a good starting point.

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This is exciting! So long as auto sync can still be turned off :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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Great news! I’m looking forward to this! I think it will definitely minimize confusion. And as a personal bonus, it will free up some space on our BioBlitz instructions page :wink:

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I support this, I look forward to seeing the new app!

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I usually upload my observations through the iNat app but have found it so cumbersome to use that I don’t use it for anything else. I would absolutely use an app if it was more convenient and user-friendly though, so this is very exciting! I look forward to seeing what you come up with. :)

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I only use the mobile apps for uploading photos. Would be nice if the workflow for uploading observations can be reduced by two clicks. Now it is quite time consuming. It can be ten times quicker ! Just like adding locations on a world map

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Yes, I am pretty excited to see the results of this project.

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