iPhone and mobile apps are, in 2012, the up and coming way to encourage a new generation of museum goers. This very 21st century technology is being deployed by some of the UK's most venerable institutions to entice children and families through their doors. And kids (who are used to carrying electronic games in their pockets and who think that anything even vaguely educational on days off, holidays and vacations is totally boring)are learning about history, archaeology, anthropology and art without even realizing it.
We've just tried two free games created for British museums by media production company The Connected Set and were impressed with the painless way multi-layered information is conveyed through games.
The Birmingham Museums Quiz Trail
This iPhone and iPad app will ultimately guide visitors on nine quiz trails through seven of Birmingham's Museums - BMAG, Thinktank, Museum of the Jewelry Quarter, Aston Hall, Blakesley Hall, Sarehole Mill and Soho House. (When we reviewed the app in October 2012, only three of the quiz trails had been completely but links with venue information were provided to the others. Launch dates for the six other quizzes were scheduled for January through April 2013).
Each quiz trail is offered at two levels:
Once the level is chosen, the player is presented with a series of pictures with questions about them. The location of the picture is indicated in the first screen. So, accompanying a picture of a model of Medieval Birmingham, circa 1300, the gallery location is given. At that point the player can find the item on a map or continue on. The next screen offers the question - which also includes some information. So, in the example just given, the question is "This picture shows William de Birmingham in his deer park with his huntsman and hounds. What sort of dog is he using to help him hunt?"
The player can answer the question from several multiple choice responses, click on "Learn more" to get a bit more background or "Hint" to get more background still. Once the question is correctly answered, the more information and points are awarded. As the quiz is played, more and more factoids - and a bit of painless education - is delivered. Once the quiz is completed, prizes that can be claimed at the museum are awarded - ranging from post cards to tea and gift shop discounts.
The quiz can be used in the museums or as advance preparation for visits. The graphics are clean, easy to follow and fun. My only quibble is that some of the questions involve identifying elements of paintings that can be difficult to see - even when expanded - on an iPhone screen. More motivation to visit the museum I guess.
The Birmingham Museums Quiz Trail is free and can be downloaded from The App Store or from the museum websites.
The McManus Quiz Trail
The McManus Trail takes visitors on a tour of Dundee - from the Ice Age to the computer age - using 10 iconic objects and paintings at the Dundee Museum and Art Gallery. Players have a choice of three levels:
As with the Birmingham game, the quiz can be taken before visiting the museum or as a guide through the museum, taking an estimated one hour.
I sampled the "Hard" version. My first question showed a picture of a section of Wooly Mammouth jawbone, followed by a paragraph of information about the Ice Age. At that point, I was invited to find out more (another set of factoids about the object, and another look at the picture) or see the question - in this case, "What happened to other Ice Age species now no longer found in Scotland, such as arctic foxes and lemmings?" Once again, the game offered me multiple choice answers as well as the opportunity to "Find out more" or to see a hint. Once the question is answered, the player can either learn more about the room where the object is found, share via social networks, or move on to the next question. After completing 10 questions, the player can claim a prize in the museum gift shop.
The app is free and available through The App Store but, at the time of this review it was not available through The McManus website.
Other Free Museum Apps
Museums seem like such natural territory for apps, we're surprised there are not more of them around the UK. But outside some of London's museums, we didn't find many. Two other free apps that we liked were:
- The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum Guide Lite. This is a teaser for a fuller version for sale (in 2012) for £3.99. The free version includes an audio guided tour, the opportunity to explore selected galleries through images, text and audio content, and highlights of the museum. Each option includes a carousel of large pictures, a brief but thorough narration and several paragraphs of textual information. There's also a menu of essential visitor information. The free version has information on three of the museum's 22 galleries while the fuller, paid version covers a full, 50 stop tour and a "highlights" 17 stop tour.
- Railroad buffs will love The East Coast Time Line, a free app from the National Railway Museum. This interactive guide has four sections -
- Journey Map - an interactive map that can be adjusted on a timeline from 1872 through to the present. Tapping the map produces information about each stop and tapping the information screen goes deeper into the topic with images and pictures.
- A 1936 Lineside Guide, a download that provides tons of history and information about the East Coast Line from London to Edinburgh.
- Explore on Board - A series of interactive images inside various historic rail cars along with further, clickable, information within the pictures.
- Poster Maker - This one is my favorite.Choose one of five historic railway posters, dating from 1913 to 1970 and, using your iPhone's camera or photo library, put yourself - or your own choice of photo in the picture.