Mobile Apps- NMAI and Jewish Heritage Museum

This weekend Abby and I visited NMAI to use their mobile app (Infinity of Nations). I had never been to the museum, so I was excited to see their space and collections. I agree with the many other people who have mentioned that the app was not very well advertised at the museum. That may be the case, but when I googled “mobile apps in museums,” it was one of the first results. It was a rather large file,  so I am glad that I downloaded it before getting to the museum, where the wireless service was less than ideal. Overall, I thought this app was great. I did feel a little silly when I was listening to the narratives. The guards were looking at me as if I was making a ton of noise and I was self-conscience about disturbing other visitors. Maybe I should have brought along headphones, but that would have taken away some of the social aspects I liked about the app.

It was really well organized and it was super easy to understand the technology. The app used the same geographical organization as the exhibit, which also helped. You can see this organizational structure here:

The app used the same colors indicated in this map.

The app had really great narratives about each object, but I did not include every object. It is obvious that that would have been WAY too much to include in an app, but I sometimes had a hard time finding the featured objects. I would have liked if they would have put a little marker on the label to indicate if it was included in the mobile app. That would be a quick and inexpensive fix.

The app was available at computer stations, but I did not see any other visitors using these kiosks.

Next, we chose to use an app from the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles. This app is meant to be a walking tour of important sites around New York City. First of all, it is hardly a walking tour, more like a walking between public transportation stations tour. That being said, we chose to visit some of the sites closest to us. The app includes a great map that will recognize your location and give you directions to the nearest site. While that sounds great in theory, we found that this part of the app was less that reliable. It took the map forever to load and the GPS was less than reliable. We spent a long time trying to figure out exactly where we were and then had some bad luck trying to find the first site. It turns out that first site doesn’t exist anymore and we were supposed to recognize that a synagogue used to stand where there is currently a parking garage. It would have been better to have a different color marker on sites that are no longer in existence.

Once we figured out this detail, it was smooth sailing. This app also has great narratives and was perfect for a sunny fall day in the city. For good measure, we went out to Liberty and Ellis Islands to check out that stop on the tour. (See, it shouldn’t be called a walking tour as you can hardly walk to the Statue of Liberty.) Again, a lot of people did not understand that we were listening to educational material about the site and gave us looks like we were crazy 20-somethings who couldn’t put down their iPhones.

Either way, I enjoyed this exercise about mobile apps and plan on using other ones people have suggested. These are great tools for museum visitors who enjoy using technology and find it comforting in formal, institutional settings. I imagine the narratives are also great for children or people who have difficulty with the written word and make these museum exhibits more accessible to those types of people or learners.