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?
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


This page is being hijacked by soap dodging counties UKuncut.

Andy Brelsford

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James Tregaskis

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Louise Diffey

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Drew FitzGerald

Decreasing the amount of information on display would surely mean people who don't have access or the skills to operate mobile technology would lose out. I can't see how the opportunity to learn less is more relaxing when the opportunity to learn more is restricted.

Matt Barria

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Matthew Pringle

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Kirstie, I think you're getting spammed... (comments about mobile operator below...). Does Tate moderate comments ? :)


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Alice Ralph

I think @Nick Donovan is right to an extent although I think it is easy for apps to get this wrong. As an iPhone user, I don't want apps clogging up my screen that I have only used once and likely won't ever use again. I would much rather have a 'resource', like Streetmuseum or a museum guide, that I can refer back to again and again. However we are just in the baby-step stage of this technology and I am intrigued and excited to see what museums/galleries and artists will be doing with mobile technology in 10 years time.

Kirstie Beaven

Valid point, Susan.

Does the sharing of info "giving the idea" to people like you, who couldn't get to see it in person, make it worth doing though? Even though we know the experience is a different and potentially information-focused one?


I think apps are a great idea if they help to engage with the work on display, and maybe to show connections with other works or historical events.

Could there also be a way to interact with what other people think about work - so rather than just downloading more information, you could contribute to the discussion too?

And like Aude said, not just on iPhone. I would definitely have used the Gauguin app, but I don't have an iPhone.


Thanks Gareth !

@Kirstie : Well actually, I think it might be quite more complicated to make the apps focus on the visitor experience. For me, "meeting the artefact" makes the visitor experience. At that time you feel something. On that point I completely agree with Susan Milligan : even though you can provide contents to enhance the visitor experience, you have to wait for the experience to take place. The apps must provide additional content to the exhibit and the website. For eg : I don't use a museum app if I can't go to the exhibit. I have a look on its website to get more information about it.

janet graydon

yes I think it would be wonderful!!! I LOVE THE TATE.. nearly first stop when in london

Kirstie Beaven

Does anyone else agree with @Nick Donovan that apps should focus on the "experience" - more the things only apps can do, rather than using apps as a new channel for distributing content?

Also Android users - tell us more about the kind of apps that are currently in the Marketplace that you think are great examples (we haven't got any Android apps in the post so far).

Brian Routh

more apps...yes definitely with video content!

Alexandra Swift

Having read a few bits of feedback, my first thoughts are keep it simple and free! Forget videos - make it educational and something to keep forever. I tend not to pay for apps as you don't know what to expect until you receive them - if it's free to get in to Tate, why charge for apps? If you think they are a good idea, endorse them by making them free also. Obviously the video side of things has caused people problems but would be great for those who can't attend particular exhibitions. Give me a free app and I'll try it!


no more apps - this leads to the even more 'I-am-at-the-museum-but-not-looking-at-the-artwork' as the AudioTours that cause less attention to the displayed work... apps distracts from art


Given that there is limited cash available for experimentation I would like to see more pictures up on the Google Art Project rather than Apps.

If Apps are really popular and would be a revenue stream then why not?

Nick Donovan

Apps and art are just begining to cultivate an exciting relationship. New experiences and engagement are possible through new media but this is the most important thing to remember. The apps strength lies in it's ability to provide a different kind of experience and this should be considered. Tours, education and videos are all very well but that should be on the website. 'The way it is' was very successful in my opinion as the artist had a specific vision for it and augmented the ideas present in the work. Bjork had just released an app album allowing the music and 'game' elements to become one. I have recently designed an app for mac and wii remote for a public engagement project funded by CERN (large hadron collider) to explore science and music - new things are possible so exploit them, don't just rehash old ideas into new mediums as the appropriate channels already exist.

Kirstie Beaven

Thanks everyone so far, this is great!

@Alexandra, currently we have three free apps and two paid for. We'd love to know what you think of those free ones - are they in the right direction?

@Paul - interesting point. What if the app was to be used out of the gallery rather than inside? Would experiencing something about the works when you *aren't* in the museum make a difference?


Museum Apps have their role if they come to give more information or more content before, during of after the visit. According to me, they do not have to interfere with the visitor experience. And please, as far as it is possible, do not limitate yourselves with apps on the iPhone !

Alice Ralph

I like museum apps as long as they are high quality and free/affordable. I have stopped downloading them mostly because they are often poor quality and rushed. I would rather check a (mobile optimised) website to see upcoming exhibitions and museum information - but apps that compliment or expand upon an exhibition are definitely worth it.

I would like to see more audio tours and information on art/museum pieces as iPhone apps - perhaps you could scan a little barcode next to each piece with your phone and then listen to or read some commentary about each piece. For a small fee this could cut out the hassle of queueing for headphone sets and encourage visitors to pay for the tour (I never bother when at galleries but would with this option). For galleries with huge collections such as the V&A it would also encourage multiple visits as you could check out one room at a time and really make the most of each visit, rather than scanning through the whole building in a rush.

I LOVE the Streetmuseum app from Museum of London too, really great 'pocket-sized museum'.

Finally I would also like to see more community iPhone apps being used to make collaborative art pieces - perhaps kind of 'One Day On Earth'/365 Project/'Learning To Love You More' sort of projects. Museums and galleries are in a unique position to kick-start these sort of apps and projects.

Mark Parry

Of course you should do more apps! They are a great way to engage a wide range of audiences and a fantastic, emerging artistic, informational and educational form. What is the purpose of a museum?


I'm all for apps adding something to the visitor experience, perhaps giving extra information or encouraging participation and engagement. Please don't just limit the apps to the iphone though, use the android platform aswell!

Kirstie Beaven

Thanks Alice. We didn't really touch on the mobile browsing versus apps in the preamble - like your distinction.

Susan Milligan

Hello TATE, apps for art? Gee that's a tough one. I saw 'How it Is', Balka, on my computer, and got a sense of what the exhibit was, but I didn't experience it, did I? I am very happy for the video because I couldn't get to TATE to see it physically. apps give an idea about art.

Imagine, reading a book all about swimming, how to swim, showing pictures and videos of someone swimming, and discussing techniques of swimming strokes. Discussing water temperature, and swimming suits. Great! Now you know all about swimming. Except you don't know how it really is, cause you don't actually know what if feels like to have the cold water surrounding your body. But you can talk endlessly about swimming with the swimming scholars. - - - - - - - The point is that art, like swimming, can't be fully experienced, or appreciated without being physically there and in the moment. in my opinion.

Rodrigo Lebrun

Apps could definitely help people to get a deeper experience while they're in the museum and afterwards. Something that contextualise the work historically and in teh artist's life is the minimum you can deliver to help people understand art beyond what they see while they're there. A place like Tate, where you can easily spend days seeing work and reading the captions, an electronic alternative to that experience is vital. Apps could be a good channel to tell visitors about new exhibitions, events and things relevant to the exhibition they're seeing and others. Instead of talking about a paid or free version, Tate should invest in both. Something for tourists to make most of their visit and something for regulars/art lovers where they can get the best 'bang for your buck' rate.

The problem with apps is that it disenfranchises anyone without a smart phone. This will exclude many of the poor and elderly, who either cannot afford or do not want a smartphone. Unfortunately, much of modern society assumes that everyone keeps up with the latest technology but there are still many who either cannot afford it or are not interested in it. If apps are introduced as a primary information source in museums and galleries, their content must also be provided by other means,, such as a simple hand held device, with conventional controls, which can be loaned to or hired by visitors to use instead of a smart phone. Of course, if the economy was working and large companies paid their due in taxation, there would be more opportunity for those who desire them, but cannot currently afford them, to buy their own smartphones!