Monday, January 31, 2011

Museums, Smartphones and mobile applications

Where are apps at? Well the first thing to be aware of is the speed with which take up of smartphones is occurring. New Nielsen figures show 24% of internet users (isn't that the entire planet now?) are considering buying a Smartphone over the next year. Last year a trifling 269.6 million smartphones were shipped worldwide, a substantial improvement over the 173.5 million number from 2009!

And we know that the museum sector is embracing this aspect fast, judging by the rollout of site specific apps for them.

Here are a few:

  • MoMA’s app, so far downloaded over 400,000 times, offers a selection of audio tours with images and videos and access to one fifth of the museum's collection.
  • The American Museum of Natural History’s app is neat with the app Explorer allowing you to share finds in the Museum with your own networks on Facebook and Twitter .
  • The LA County Museum of Art has been an early player in the museum tours using apps.
  • The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam was one of the first in the world to offer an audio tour in the 1950s, and they also have been early pioneers of app use.
  • In Madrid the Reina Sofia Museum is focusing purely on audio programing in an effort to keep visitors' eyes on the artworks, providing four audio podcasts that can be downloaded onto smartphones.
  • The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art allows you to interact with over 200 works of art in the permanent collection. One of the problems of working out whether these apps are any good is finding out quite what their offering is. The Nelson Atkins allows you to preview.
  • Check out also the Dallas Museum of Art.
Where does the audio tour now sit in all of this? Well one issue is that you normally have to pay for an audio tour either as a stand alone purchase or as part of a special exhibition ticket. App downloads to date cost nothing, although the Stedelijk is considering offering a premium edition for which there would be a charge. This is going to have to change.

And the next issue is that audio tour providers who have had control of this aspect of museum visits are going to need to work out how they embrace Smartphones. Judging by the websites of the two leading players internationally, Antenna Audio is not there yet but Acoustiguide is fast developing an offering for this space.

And finally the MONA experience about which I blogged last week is an interesting one. Although not strictly an app, it is relevant to this issue. MONA has purchased 1340 iPod touches, which are provided free to visitors. No exhibit has a label, with all content delivered via the iPod. Two separate Wi-fi systems are used, one for content delivery, and the other being a real time location system (RTLS). No guidance is given on the basis that visitors should be able to navigate according to their free will. It is an interesting (and I suspect immensely costly in terms of R&D) experiment that we shall all be watching closely. My first use of it, admittedly in the hurly-burly part of the opening, was positive, and certainly the data that MONA can gather on visitors, the path they take, what they like (and don’t) is going to substantially add to the value of these technologies for museum evaluation.

But on that matter await another blog!

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

1 comment:

  1. Hey Julian -

    Came across this post today. Please take a look at this site: - and tell me what you think, as far as the application for museums.