Aug 16, 2021|News|5 minutes

Museum Embrace BYOD in a Post-Pandemic World

Why bring your own device (BYOD) will replace the rented audio guide

This week, proof of vaccination will be required for visitors and employees to enter into New York City museums. Similar measures are effective in other cities and countries in an effort to keep museums and other cultural venues open. As we ease out of lockdown, will these kinds of precautions make visitors feel comfortable to return and keep them safe once they arrive?

Many solutions include various levels of social distancing, from queue management to how closely artworks are hung, as well as health and safety measures such as wearing masks, hand-sanitizing and temperature checks. In addition, museums have embraced more ways to reduce physical contact or proximity through online ticketing, one-way exhibition routes and digital maps.

The Met Queue Facemasks Getty Images 1269216779
People wearing face masks visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art as it reopens to members after the pandemic closure, on August 27, 2020 in New York City, NY. (Photo by Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images)

Whilst social distancing now feels like second nature, there will be one change unique to cultural institutions: the global pandemic marks the end of the handheld rented audio guide provided by museums and even throws the viability of group guided tours into question for the time being.

Even with timed entrances, traditional hardware such as audio devices, headsets and even state-of-the-art virtual reality goggles are surfaces that may collect germs that put visitors at risk. If we’re living in a world where we are all more hesitant to shake hands for years to come, the idea of visitors feeling comfortable picking up a device that has been potentially handled by hundreds if not thousands of visitors is unthinkable.

A recent IMPACTS survey even found that the public’s indicated interest in attending cultural sites has increased for places where social distancing could be easily observed such as parks and aquariums. In contrast “performing arts entities and touch-based museums” will suffer an “expected decline in visitation” with the study suggesting museums highlight “permanent exhibits that aren’t reliant upon touch”.

So what happens to the information available on these devices?

Expert interpretation, family trails, audio description, historical context, tours, reaction, response, critique and dramatisation add a richness to the museum experience that doesn’t need to be lost.

Instead it should move onto the personal handheld device we already carry with us everywhere we go: our phones.

Mobile phones have had a mixed reception in museum circles. In the early 2000s there was a “perception that [mobile phone use] was disrupting the museum experience” (Museums and the Web 2015) with the Washington Post even claiming that visitors who were unable to ‘put their phones down’ were ‘ruining museums’.

In addition, developing and maintaining an app is costly and time intensive. A recent study white paper from Hatch Apps found that the average cost of developing an app was $100,000 — a price out of reach for many museums even before Covid-19 closures, which have led to on average 80% loss in income. While these apps provided a way to deliver content to users’ devices, the average museum app has historically only been downloaded by between 3–5% of visitors.

Screenshot 2020 07 17 at 15 20 35
Smartify app tour page and artwork stop © Smartify

This is where a universal app like Smartify comes in. It’s free for visitors to access museums around the world, both on-site and online, increasing the likelihood of continued engagement. For museum staff, it’s easy to upload content, create and edit tours using the management dashboard with drag and drop tools and venue personalization options.

With an already engaged audience of over 2.5 Million users, Smartify is not only safer for visitors but can also become the basis for a resilient digital-first business model. Visitors can download tours offline if the museum has connectivity issues; the app can process payment transactions; and it shifts visitors from “leaning in” to read exhibition panels to looking at their own personal devices.

Mary Beard Trail Screenshot mockup
Smartify museum tour dashboard © Smartify

The value of BYOD in this context is even beyond the assurance that the only person touching your device is you.

On a platform like Smartify, where museums receive feedback on audience preferences and routes through museums, it will be possible to highlight potential hot zones in museums before they become an issue.

AI assisted tour generation could mean suggesting routes through museums to visitors based on current capacity levels in order to avoid bottlenecks whilst offering interesting, personalised experiences.

Screenshot 2020 07 17 at 15 24 50
Push notifications on the Smartify app © Smartify

Push notifications can be employed for timed ticketing, exhibition advertising for off-peak times and even proximity alerts for guests. Not to mention an increase in accessibility with immediately available text-to-speech, large text object interpretation and multiple language translation available at the press of a button.

As museums explore everything from Animal Crossing art collections to telepresence robots that can be guided around museums in your place, now is the time for BYOD to become an integral part of the museum experience.

BYOD offers not only a more sanitary way to deliver important museum content but also potentially brings with it a number of tools to empower museums around the world to reopen safely.

This is a museum, please keep your phone in hand.

To learn more about Smartify, a membership-based Saas platform that offers the latest user-tested technology at a fraction of the price, please visit our products and services webpage.

written by

Molly Skinner

More Blog Posts