Embracing Mobile

Do you own a cell phone? According to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the answer is, more than likely, a resounding “yes.” The research suggests that 91% of the adult population in the U.S. owns a cell phone.

Next question: Is your cell phone a smart phone? Again, your answer is probably “yes.” According to the same study, 61% of cell phone owners are classified as smart phone users.


It’s a word that stirs excitement, intimidation, and financial uneasiness in the museum world. But what is the reality? How many museums are using mobile platforms today? How many are using them effectively?

Mobile in Museums

Many thanks to my friend, Mark Wahba, for agreeing to be my model at the Ohio History Center.

According to the Mobile in Museum Study – 2012, a survey of American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and Museums Association (UK) members, more than half of US museums offer mobile platforms:

  • 8% of museums offer only traditional museum-provided mobile devices.
  • 13% of museums offer both traditional museum-provided mobile devices and new mobile features (e.g., QR Codes).
  • 36% of museums offer only new mobile features (i.e., “bring your own device”).

Two other key takeaways form the survey:

  • Despite the growth of mobile technology in museums, about four in ten museums do not offer any mobile features, citing the lack of dedicated budgets, limited resources and limited knowledge as key reasons.
  • One third of non-mobile museums planned to introduce a mobile feature in 2012. Half of mobile museums planned a new mobile launch and two thirds planned to expand existing mobile features in 2012.

To read the full study, click here.

This post is inspired by recent article, Dear museums: the time is right to embrace mobile, by Matthew Petrie. You’ve got to love any article that opens with, “Dear museums, we love you,” right? I enjoyed Petrie’s article (he cites several great examples), and agree with his sentiments. The time to embrace mobile is NOW (and of equal importance, don’t forget to tell people about it).

Which brings me to AAM’s Mobile Apps for Museums (available in print, ebook, or online) edited by Nancy Proctor (@NancyProctor) head of mobile strategy and initiatives for the Smithsonian Institution. This book includes a helpful  introduction, “What is Mobile?”, and covers business models, mobility and experience design, models and misnomers, strategies, and a marketing case study – which I co-wrote with my former NURFC colleagues, Dina Bailey (@NURFCdina) and Richard Cooper (@NURFCrich). Interested in exploring mobile? Not sure what the best option would be for your institution? This book, with a collection of essays and case studies by Ed Rodley (@erodley), Koven Smith (@5easypieces), and Robert Stein (@rjstein) – just to name a few, is a great resource.

Is your museum using mobile? On what platforms? If not, why? How do you feel about mobile and the museum experience? What words of advice, encouragement or caution can you offer to others from your own institutional forays into the mobile universe?

5 thoughts on “Embracing Mobile

  1. It’s an interesting question: how much do you embrace new technology, mobile or otherwise, whilst retaining the integrity of the collection and, in my case, the building it’s housed in? Working in a 14th Century place means that too much tech-wizardry runs a very real risk of detracting from the atmosphere.
    Surely some places and some collections deserve just experiencing? And how do we introduce enough of it to help more people engage at the same time?

    • Thanks for your comment! You bring up an interesting point. Is mobile (and technology in general) more challenging for historic sites? Is it a distraction from time and place?

  2. Wow, Jamie, thanks for these great resources. I would add that providing visitors with content via their phones and tablets — and gaining their input from surveys — shouldn’t detract or be meaningfully different from using printed materials to accomplish the same thing. And visitors shouldn’t have to download and install apps or spend their phone data allotments to interact with your mobile content. It can be broadcast for free, wirelessly within the museum.

  3. Great Topic!!! I would highly encourage everyone to check out Mobile Apps for Museums. This is a great resoruce for any museum trying to start a mobile strategy. The most important point to remember about mobile is that the success of the platform still comes back to the power of the stories we tell.

  4. Pingback: The Disconnect: museums & mobiles | Edgital

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