An enlightening mobile app category
And eventually, when we feel at home in a museum, we begin to move easily between galleries and ideas. Every object has its place and resonates with multiple meanings. How to get there, though, from the bewildering beginning? There must be an app for that.
So for years museums have been playing around with audio guides, push-button affairs that have been, in essence, transmogrified cassette players or MP3 players, held up to the ear or attached to headphones, every item keyed in by the user. Some museums have tried harnessing visitors’ cellphones: dial a number, key in an ID and listen to recorded commentary. The ideal is a guide that will not demand distracting attention. And given the capabilities of the new smartphones, which can respond to location, play audio and video, and allow Internet interactions, a sophisticated guide is inevitable. But the ones I have tried show the form only in its infancy. They offer information about events, exhibitions, schedules; they may feature audio or video. But seams are evident, and the apps creak under minimal strain.