Apps for your mobile phone are becoming a feature of many people’s daily life, this Tate Debate questions their appropriateness in context of museums

Tate Debate Banner image

The rise of the smartphone means we are beginning to expect to catch up with our friends, check the weather and read the headlines simply with a flick of the finger or tap of the thumb.
Many museums and galleries have started to produce their own apps – giving you the chance to experience an aspect of that organisation right in the palm of your hand!
We think we should be doing more in this area, what do you think?
Would you like to see more apps from galleries?
What should they focus on - what’s on in the galleries, information on objects on display, games, video content?
OR
Do you think mobiles are the wrong place for experiences with art and culture?
Let us know which side of the argument you come down on.
As food for thought, here’s what we’ve made ourselves or seen and liked from other museums.
Tate’s apps so far (all for iPhone or iPod touch):

Miroslaw Balka App

How It Is is an experience, gaming-influenced app based on the Miroslaw Balka Turbine Hall commission from 2009.
Tate Trumps is a game to be played in the gallery at Tate Modern.
We have two guides to exhibitions at Tate Modern: Miró and Gauguin.
And a vintage photography app, to Muybridge-ise your images We’ve also seen a lot of things we like from other organisations:

Love Art from the National Gallery, London:

Streetmuseum, Launchball, Field Guide to Australian Flora and Fauna, Love Art, Explorer

Streetmuseum, Launchball, Field Guide to Australian Flora and Fauna, Love Art, Explorer

Comments

Shona Carnall

I think there should be apps, but we need to think carefully about what content they contain. Most of the apps I have seen are "look more closely at the object in front of you" which will only interest people for a short time and get samey quickly. I would love to see a greater variety of apps that could include gaming (I'm fond of gaming)or at least something to download in the museum, but able to use it outside of the building. We get this idea that apps are a way to get the stuff in the store out to the public, but sometimes the reasons they are there is because we have plenty of them. We need to think about what the app is for and have a definete purpose rather than simply "getting our stuff out there."

Ed Rodley

One thing I notice about your examples, Kirstie, is that many of them occupy that mental space outside of the "core" museum experience of interacting with the stuff of the museum. Tate Trumps happens in the in gallery, but it's not strictly an interpretation of the art. Muybridgizer is the same way. I haven't tried How It Is, but it sounds similar.

Streetmuseum and Victoria's Field Guide are explicitly for use out in the world. Launchball can be played anywhere. AMNH's Explorer does have interpretation, but the feature I hear everyone talking about is the navigation, so that's also outside of the box of "interacting with the museum's stuff" and wayfinding in a big place like AMNH or Science Museum, London, can consume over half of the total time of a visit. One opportunity for mobile experiences (app or mobile web) to shine is in these interstices.

Jon Baker

I think they are a great idea and definitely add to the experience. I think if the apps have premium/interactive content that is in addition to what is available free (for example what you expect to get in a paid for programme/catalogue) then a small charge is reasonable.

From a technical point of view, I would advise you don't forget the other platforms such as Android and Blackberry as there user numbers are massive. Although they don't have quite the same established market place for apps you can provide easy installation via QR Barcodes on marketing material.

Without getting too technical if you go down the multiple platform route you should really consider having a core developed in a standard technology (for example web technologies such as HTML/CSS & Javascript) and wrap a native app container around each of these using something like Titanium http://www.appcelerator.com/ or the open source Phonegap http://www.phonegap.com/ or your costs will likely sky rocket trying to maintain code bases for each app on each platform (also it is easier and cheaper to resource web developers than mobile developers).

Regards,

Jon

Lloyd Mills

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Gregory Deacon

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Keith Cooper

I would suggest an interactive app that you could use within the museum to provide more information on the different exhibits. Of course its doubtful that you would be able to afford to create such a thing whilst companies such as Vodafone defraud the country

Rolo Tamasi

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Kirstie Beaven

That's true Ed, I hadn't actually noticed, but I have focused on apps that are less about the traditional museum experience.

Now you point it out, I think I am *personally* really interested in the possibility for these in-between experiences, though I realise (from this thread as well as elsewhere!) that a great collection browsing tool is something many people relish.

sue f

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Lala

I thought museums were about critical thinking. Sorry, probably my degree, masters and years of experience working on museums mislead me.

Lala

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Jo Edge

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Kirstie Beaven

@Tracy Would you want this as an app, or would it be as useful to be able to browse this through a (mobile-friendly) website?

Simon

The Museum of London's Streetmuseum app is ace. More things like that please!

Arthur Buxton

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Emily Steedman

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Tom Grinsted

Galleries already do this. There's a level of information in guidebooks or audioguides that can't be found simply on the gallery floor.

Obviously I'm not suggesting that this is an answer for every bit of interpretation or information. But these technologies do allow you more options that galleries have traditionally had. For instance, what if the overriding aim of the gallery space was to be clean and empty, such as "The Weather" in the Turbine Hall or work by Dan Flavin? Mobile and guides offer you a way to deliver the information that some people want without compromising the space. IWM use this approach with audioguides in our historic sites (HMS Belfast and Churchill War Rooms) as delivering all of the interpretation though traditional means would ruin the experience of being in the spaces themselves.

There are also options to provide the technology to people in-gallery if they don't have, or don't want to use, their own kit. I believe Tate gave out iPhones at Gauguin if people didn't have their own to use the guide app on.

It's also not a one-size-fits-all argument. Some people (16 - 24 year olds) are increasing using their mobiles as their primary (and sometimes only) way to consume information. You could argue that being on these platforms extends reach, participation and access.

Nigel Gardner

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Emily Steedman

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phil

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Kirstie Beaven

@Keith Harrison Interesting - you would like more opportunities to browse the collections of museums on your phone.

I think that @ Ed Rodley is right, I come down on the side of more "in-between" experiences.

Perhaps you're right - perhaps that is focusing on a niche market. It's good to hear that you actually want more browsing of objects and associated information, and geo tagging is a great idea to make searching more relevant.

Just a reminder, this discussion is about apps for museums and galleries. Please let's keep posts on topic.

Jo Edge

GENIUS POINT.

Matthew Pringle

With a middleware SDK like Corona you can product an app which will work across iOS and Android without having to code twice.

The apps hit a larger market if done correctly by opening up the entire world to the collections of the museum. This in turn can induce tourism, funding and the status of the museum / gallery when trying to acquire grants and private funding.

Andy Brelsford

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Rolo Tamasi

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Lukus

Will the the revenue generated from the application be taxed?

Jo Edge

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PPK

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Jim Medway

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Jim Medway

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Keith Harrison

I am all for apps, but it needs to be remembered that they are for a niche market that mightn't be inclusive. An app might be designed to accommodate a whole range of users but ultimately the real users will be that small percentile of smart phone users who use apps for heritage/touring/arts visits. This group is further distiller downwards if, as at museum of london's streetmuseum and londinium apps, only iPhone apps are designed. Furthermore - such augmented reality apps only work to their full benefit if you are one of the key niche users actually in London!!!

I find apps that promote collections so much more beneficial - a means of extending the collection to a wider audience. Tate accessions have stories behind them that cover the world. You should geotag them so that wherever the user is can find out about things or artists from their county/region. Don't restrict it to just the niche users at your venues.

Richard Appleby

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Matthew Pringle

And on another note. I am an app developer, I have published apps and I do this for a professional living.

We have been in discussion with numerous art institutions / partnerships in the North West about producing apps. There is a massive wealth of information sitting there which could be utilised and shared through out the world. Galleries, museums and other institutions have been digitising their assets for years in an expectance of platforms like these.

Its a shame there really is no money to do anything anymore. These institutions now have to worry about keeping staff employed, the lights on and the general costs of keeping and bring in exhibitions and the like.

The real discussion should be "If Vodafone and others paid their true tax liabilities could museums then afford to produce apps"

Andy Brelsford

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Richard Appleby

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Rolo Tamasi

This point of view appears predicated upon the believe that none has anything to benefit by using mobile apps over alternatives. Something that the huge number of apps in use in just about every area of activity must surely bring into question.

The fact that some individuals may not wish to use them is no reason to remove the benefits from others.

If museums are not to be free to use sponsorship then they must make their users pay more.

Alex

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Neil

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amy vyctorya

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Andy

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Matthew Pringle

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Daniel Bye

I love the idea of museum apps. I work in the arts and there's plenty more we can all do to use the tools emerging technologies provide. And increasingly these technologies are becoming material, too: they present not just new ways of delivering, accessing and experiencing art, but new artistic possibilities.

As a member of Tate, I'd welcome an app that tells me what's on and gives me more information and context on the work. And I'd welcome explorations in the creation of art for that platform, art that perhaps never appears in the main gallery.

However. I won't remain a member of Tate if you continue your association with BP and Vodafone. These are toxic brands with a whole raft of ethical blind-spots. They make you look increasingly ridiculous. By all means develop apps, but find a more suitable partner.

Roy Bard

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Kirstie Beaven

So we can discuss apps in Museums and Galleries, we're going to have to delete off-topic comments.

Chris

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Chris Waite

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peckhampulse

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Lala

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A

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Sarah

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