Saturday, October 2, 2010

From Picassos to Sarcophagi, Guided by Phone Apps

Very interesting article on how museums use iPhone and iPhone applications for the benefit of their visitors:

Walk into a crowded museum, and what do you see? People with cameras or cellphones snapping pictures of people looking at objects. The artwork, document or fossil is a tourist site; the photograph is our souvenir. And the looking — for which museums were created — becomes a memory before it has even begun.

Now something else is in play that may distance the museum experience even further — though it intends to do just the opposite. During the last week I have walked through galleries, half-looking at objects and half-consulting an iPhone screen.

I have swiped, tapped and maneuvered in iSpace while negotiating Egyptian sarcophagi, Matisse paintings and Apatosaurus bones. I have searched for item IDs, audio-tour-guide numbers and tagged thumbnail images while trying to get information about Pacific Islanders or Picasso. I have used museum apps to help me navigate museums. But I have generally felt used along the way, forced into rigid paths, looking at minimalist text bites, glimpsing possibilities while being thwarted by realities.

Free apps, meanwhile, proliferate, adding to their basic consumer information a varied set of technological virtues and flaws. The Brooklyn Museum has an app for the iPhone and Droid (Brooklyn Museum Mobile) that acts as a guide to the museum, allows easy access to its online catalog and turns every gallery into a kind of social-networking site.

The American Museum of Natural History recently introduced its own iPhone app (AMNH Explorer), which can identify your location, give you directions in the museum and provide explanatory text and images of major objects. The Museum of Modern Art’s iPhone app (MoMA) is a short-cut entry into its audio tour system; it also challenges you to use the iPhone as a camera, slipping its trademark logo alongside each photo taken. The Metropolitan Museum of Art will introduce its first app in February, for an exhibition, “Guitar Heroes,” featuring the work of renowned New York luthiers.

To read more:

Source photo: New York Times:

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