The Pros and Cons of On-Site iPod Touches

The TourSphere Checkout System

I’m not going to complicate this for you.  We’ve worked with museums with anywhere between 10 – 500 iPods. There are great things about having iPods onsite at your museum, but it comes at a cost (literally and figuratively).

In our experience, here are the pros and cons.  I hope this helps you evaluate what’s right for your organization:


  • Accessibility – Users without a smartphone or iPod Touch can still do your mobile tour.
  • Connectivity – If you don’t have wifi or 3G access in your museum, onsite iPod Touches (loaded with your app) can provide a great experience for your visitors. Because the content lives natively on the device, you don’t need connectivity.
  • Revenue – You can charge for the rental of a device or, as some of our clients do. One client even raised their admission price by $2 and now includes a “complimentary” iPod Touch rental with every admission – users stay longer, learn more and tell their friends about it.
  • Cost – When you compare the cost of iPod Touches versus proprietary museum hardware, it usually compares very favorably, especially when you factor in maintenance costs and overall functionality of the device for the price (also known as “bang for the buck”).
  • Theft – There are several ways to minimize the risk but this is still a risk.  And as much as we hate to say it, theft from staff can be as worrisome as theft from visitors.
  • Checkout Process/Staff Buy-in – If you’re switching from a more traditional audio guide system to an iPod Touch-based system, then it’s not a problem. However, if you’re going from no system to an iPod-based system, then this means more work for your front-line staff. Usually people aren’t thrilled with that.
  • Maintenance – Hardware does this weird thing sometimes… it breaks. Even with the special optimizations we make for museum-based iPod Touches, devices still sometimes malfunction (their track record is great, but nothing is 100% perfect). We do try to help give you peace of mind by offering maintenance programs, but the basic point here is that, no matter what hardware system you choose, be prepared for the occasional headache.
  • Cost – Even though this was listed as a “pro”, I’m going to also list it as a con. Why? Well, because no matter what, hardware still costs money. This is why we advocate, if you decide to use onsite devices, always starting with the minimum number you think you’ll need – and you can always order more later.

One thought on “The Pros and Cons of On-Site iPod Touches

  1. For us, the most challenging aspect of launching a new iPod tour was how to introduce and deliver the new experience to visitors. We had in place a very traditional approach in which the entire visitor experience revolved around our 50-minute “house tour”. Creating an experience that allowed visitors to explore our entire 87-acre property would expand and enhance the visitor experience and allow them to move at their own pace as they learned more about the history and stories associated with the property.

    However, dictating the visitor experience and our dependence on long-standing procedures had to change. Despite providing training to our front-line staff, it was difficult for them to move beyond our established process, and the new tour afforded us an opportunity to change that process.

    We began by staffing a member of our interpretive team in our visitor center lobby, a person already trained on the use the iPod, to provide an orientation to the tour. This provided consistency and positive peer modeling for our staff to follow. In addition, we looked for ways to make our front-line staff’s job more efficient. Over the years various responsibilities had been added to their workload, making it hard for them to feel relaxed in front of visitors. Rather than insisting that visitors watch the 13-minute orientation film and board our shuttle to our house, we gave the visitor the freedom to walk to the house. We shortened our introduction video and no longer required visitors to watch it. We also helped docents incorporate elements previously on the video into their tours.

    Over time, our front-line staff have become more comfortable with the new process of the delivery and orientation of the iPod tour. We removed our interpretive staff member several months later.

    To bring our docents fully on board, we explained that the new tour was an enhancement to the existing guided experience. We kept them abreast of the progress of the tour’s development, and prior to the tour’s launch, we provided a reception for them to test out the new devices. Their feedback was quite helpful, and we were able to make some final changes to the experience based on their input.

    Overall their response to the tour was positive as they learned a great deal about an under-interpreted aspect of our historic site.

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