Tag Archives: Museum Technology

Upcoming Webinar July 2nd: How to Build Your Own App

28 Jun

Join us Tuesday July 2nd at 11:30am for a 45-minute webinar, “How to Build Your Own App.”

Mobile Advisor Clayton Jones will host a demo of the TourSphere CMS. Learn the basics—how to upload assets, build pages, add content, and establish links. We’ll build a mini-app and answer your questions about our CMS.

When: Tuesday, July 2, 11:30am – 12:15pm EST
Where: Online
Cost: Free

Register now!

App Spotlight: HarborArts Shipyard Gallery Walking Tour

10 Jan

If, upon visiting the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina, you noticed that one of the buildings had a large half man, half octopus sculpture on top, your curiosity might be piqued. (The name of the sculpture is Iscariot, by the way, and he’s made of recycled steel and reclaimed wood.) What is a piece of art doing in a marina?

7a9f97bfa0e22021a0aeb534f16fd580b8a98e02a305682c404da510.png.1000x666_q85Iscariot is not alone; the HarborArts project has turned the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina into a veritable art museum, but instead of walking by puzzled, visitors can now access the entire exhibit through their mobile devices on a TourSphere tour, engaging with the work and learning more about the artists.

An interactive map allows visitors to conduct a self-guided tour of more than 30 different pieces of art around the Marina. It also allows HarborArts to engage visitors about its unique mission: to protect and preserve our oceans and waterways by helping each of us to understand the issues and solutions facing our blue planet, using monumental art and public sculpture to raise awareness.

The HarborArts app is a classic example of how a mobile tour can turn what might be a confusing sight to a passerby into an opportunity for engagement with an organization and education about a mission. Further, it provides a virtual tour experience for those who aren’t able to visit the open air museum directly, with excellent photos, background and artist information about each piece of art.

In an effort to also promote the artists featured at HarborArts, the app also provides information about each artist and, when applicable, links to their blogs and websites. For those impressed by the exhibit, they can choose to instantly “Like” HarborArts on Facebook or follow the organization on Twitter, providing immediate interaction and the ability to capture the visitor’s interest before they leave the exhibit. It also provides a donation button embedded into the app, again providing an instant way to access and engage the visitor.

The HarborArts TourSphere app is another creative way for a small nonprofit organization to expand their reach and engagement economically and without hiring staff for tours. If you ever visit the Boston Harbor Shipyard and are wondering about the artwork hidden about, check out the app for the details!

To view the HarborArts Tour, visit http://harborarts.toursphere.com or scan this QR code with your smartphone.

To view the HarborArts Tour, visit http://harborarts.toursphere.com or scan this QR code with your smartphone.

App Spotlight: Virginia Air & Space Center

14 Dec

34318154b513a1d053ba071710a8b9d54d30c69b1ffb259d5e97f1fc.tiff.473x313_q85The Hampton Convention & Visitor Bureau in Hampton, VA has created a unique app package that allows visitors to the city to download a package of six tours that will guide them through the city. Featuring tours of neighborhoods and universities, the comprehensive tours give an insider’s view on the city. But perhaps one of the most popular sites in Hampton is the Virginia Air & Space Center, and accordingly the app for the site gives visitors a dynamic virtual tour through the museum, exhibit by exhibit.

Opening with an exciting ride over the clouds, the Virginia Air & Space Center App guides visitors through the museum with video and audio that gives background on each exhibit. The narrator leads the user through the museum with audio and visual cues, ensuring that the visitor doesn’t miss any important highlights. With 20 aircraft and 10 spacecraft in the center, there’s lots to see.

The app highlights such aviation milestones as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military airmen, including video interviews with some of the airmen themselves, providing living encounters of their time in combat. Or, get an up-close look at the F-4E Phantom II while listening to a history of its use and a rundown of how the aircraft is used.

Check out the space capsule that carried astronauts to the moon and back…and hear from one of the astronauts who was on the flight. You can even take a virtual tour of Mars.

The Virginia Air & Space Center is a great example of using multimedia–video and audio–to create a virtual tour that simulates an in-person tour at the museum and helps engage the visitor by providing fascinating background information and ensuring they don’t miss any important details in the museum.

To view the Virginia Air & Space Center App, visit http://hampton.toursphere.com/en/virginia-air-space-center-22607.html or scan this QR code with your smartphone.

To view the Virginia Air & Space Center App, visit http://hampton.toursphere.com/en/virginia-air-space-center-22607.html or scan this QR code with your smartphone.

No Cell Service or Wi-Fi? No Problem.

26 Nov

TourSphere apps are web-based, which means that they require either cell service or wi-fi so that the user can download and use the app live at the site of the tour. We have many clients, like parks or sites with bad cell phone service, who ask us if there are any options for them to use a TourSphere app. Our answer? Of course! When your site has no cell service or wi-fi, there are three options to consider.

Create a Native iPhone and/or Android App

The advantage of native iPhone and Android apps is that they are downloaded onto a mobile device as bundled content, and don’t require the streaming that a web app requires. This means once they’re downloaded onto the user’s phone, he or she can utilize the full-featured app no matter what type of service or wi-fi is available. In fact, we can actually convert your TourSphere app into an Android or iPhone app to accommodate sites with no wi-fi or cell service.

While this seems like the perfect solution for our clients without cell service or wi-fi, there are a few disadvantages to this option. Apps with audio and video can take up a lot of space on a mobile device. Plus, they require the user to plan ahead, which is a gamble. If the visitor doesn’t check your website to discover you have an app available, they may miss the opportunity to use it, because it won’t be accessible on-site. Finally, choosing either an iPhone or Android app can make your app unavailable to those users without that particular device, where a web app is accessible to all users with web-enabled devices.

Provide On-Site Devices for Users

Many museums and tourist sites provide iPod Touches or iPads for their visitors and pre-load their iPhone app onto the device. These devices are then either loaned or rented to visitors. Providing pre-loaded devices solves the planning issue for visitors, since they can arrive on site with nothing on their phone and still access the app via a borrowed device. This can also provide a stream of revenue for your site, if you choose to charge for the rentals. By providing the pre-loaded app on a device, you can enhance the visitor experience for every visitor instead of just those with access to your app via their own device.

However, providing hardware has its cons as well. There is a significant up-front cost to buying hardware to lend to your museum visitors. There’s also a staff burden in keeping the devices maintained and updated, as well as keeping track of the devices once they’re loaned out. Finally, the staff needs to make sure that they update each device individually when there is any update to the iPhone app, which can be time-consuming.

In 2013, TourSphere will be introducing a solution to this issue by providing a new native app publishing method for on-site devices. This solution will allow for remote and automatic app updates, reducing staff time spent maintaining the apps.

iPad Kiosks

The third option for museums and tourism sites that don’t have wi-fi or cell service is to put the tour directly into exhibits and on-site with iPad Kiosks. Traditionally, kiosks are extremely expensive pieces of hardware, but by building a TourSphere app for an iPad and mounting it directly into the exhibit, you’ve created the same opportunity for learning and information as an app on the user’s mobile device, but don’t require the user to access the information on their own phone.

iPad Kiosks basically provide a touch-screen display at a minimal price as compared to a traditional kiosk. The app can also be locked so that users can only view what’s available to them and not surf the Internet or access other programs. While the tour is not in the hand of the user, it provides an excellent and low-maintenance way of providing interactive, engaging information for your exhibit.

If you’re interested in web apps but don’t have wi-fi or cell service on site, contact the TourSphere team for additional information about your options.


The App “Made in Hollywood”

8 Nov

The use of TourSphere’s technology is just about endless in our imagination – we see an unlimited number of uses for our mobile app technology. From different venues and tours, additional features, and a multitude of uses, we believe that technology is always evolving just like TourSphere. It’s exciting to us when we see our clients have a similar vision and utilize their customized mobile app in a new and different way!

Today, we are very excited to present a unique use of a museum app. The Toledo Museum of Art has built their mobile app through TourSphere, and are showcasing the app in kiosks throughout the museum. As visitors walk from display to display, they are greeted by mounted iPads, providing more insight around the collection.

Currently used in the “Made in Hollywood: Photographs from the John Kobal Foundation” exhibit, running through January 2013, the TourSphere app welcomes visitors as they enter the gallery and presents context around the photos of Hollywood. This exhibit includes over 90 prints from the most important photographers of the Golden Age. As you walk through the images of people like Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and others, you can almost hear them speaking fromt he past through iPads.

Bringing together old world Hollywood with the latest cutting edge technology, visitors get the chance to experience history at its finest. We applaud The Toledo Museum of Art on their clever use of their mobile app and look forward to visiting to see technology in action, at it’s best.  It’s clear that this exhibit was meant for the silver screen!

All photos courtesy of Andrew Weber.

New Study Shows Museums Offering More Mobile Experiences

5 Nov

“His house is like a museum. It’s very beautiful and very cold, and you’re not allowed to touch anything.” – Matthew Broderick, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

People sometimes think of museums the way Ferris Bueller described them. But as you and I know, that’s changing! Especially when museums adopt mobile technology to create interactive apps that enhance the visitor experience.

Check out the recent survey by the American Alliance of Museums in the U.S. and Museums Association in the U.K. It’s predicted that by 2013, there will be two billion smartphones worldwide. Many smartphone users, of course, will visit museums – and they want a way to interact with exhibits on their devices.

The survey found the biggest motivation for most “mobile museums” is visitor engagement. That might mean guiding the visitor though the museum via a custom map or providing them with an interactive tour with multimedia features like photos, videos and audio.

Many museums may have shied away from creating a mobile experience for their visitors because:

1. They thought it would be too expensive

2. They thought it would require serious technological expertise

In the past, yep – those two reasons were true. But not anymore. With do-it-yourself app platforms now available like TourSphere, museums can build custom mobile apps that work on any smartphone or tablet (iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.).

Many museums have already employed this technology with great results. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art teamed up with TourSphere and Green Door Labs to create an interactive mobile game that leads visitors on a murder mystery through the museum. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s mobile app is an emotional journey through the museum and the struggle for freedom. And the Boston-area based Museum of Bad Art is using its new TourSphere mobile app to showcase its pieces for its tens of thousands of Facebook fans who are based around the world.

As museums continue to adopt mobile technology and create interesting, and sometimes unexpected, visitor experiences, Ferris Bueller’s hilarious statement will itself seem like a thing of the past.

The Freedom Center’s Richard Cooper on the Future of Museums and the Role Technology Will Play

22 Oct

This interview is part of our Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.

Richard Cooper

Manager of Interpretive Services

Richard C. Cooper is the Manager of Interpretive Services at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center where he oversees the development and presentation of the overall interpretive, educational strategies used with the general public in the exhibit galleries to include guided tours, demonstrations, self-guided activities, and first & third-person interpretation. He also actively works with the Exhibits and Collections departments to develop the interpretation of traveling exhibitions. Rich came to the Freedom Center in the capacity of Interpretive Services Coordinator where he was in charge of maintaining the day-to-day operations of the Interpretive Services program within the museum’s 158,000 square foot facility that opened in 2004. Rich received his B.A. in American History from the University of Cincinnati.  He is currently attending Northern Kentucky University to obtain a Masters Degree in Public History.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Rich: Wow…There so many outstanding museums out there today that I have visited this year.  But, if I have to pick…I will settle for two – the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis, Indiana and the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Indiana Historical Society has become outstanding at bringing history to life in a whole new way in their experiences called You Are There.  In these experiences they recreate historical pictures from Indiana’s past and allow for visitors to step into those scenes.  The City Museum is probably one of the most exciting museums I have ever visited.  Both young and old have the chance to crawl through amazing caves, and see creative pieces of recycled/repurposed architectural and industrial objects within their collection.  Check out this Museum Minute post to see a blog written by a colleague of mine, Jamie Glavic (@MuseumMinute) and videos I created from inside the City Museum.

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum recently?

Rich: I would have to say MOMA Unadulterated at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  They created a wonderful tour where children actually interpret art through their eyes.  In the field of interpretation, we are always searching and creating new ways for visitors to become participants in the story.  This new tour having children interpret the art through their eyes takes this idea of visitor participation to a whole new level for the field.

TourSphere: Did your museum do something this year(or have something coming up soon) that you are especially proud of/ excited about?

Rich: This summer the Freedom Center opened a terrific changing exhibition called Music of Change: Hymns, Blues, & Rock.  The exhibition has challenged and inspired visitors to recognize the power of music and how it is used in their own lives to express camaraderie in connection with social movements and attitudes.  The exhibition was created by the Freedom Center Curator, Dina Bailey (@NURFCDina) and graduate students at Northern Kentucky University.  The exhibition is open to the public until September 22, 2012.  The Freedom Center mobile tour app available via web app and in the Apple App store has a selection of music that helps to bring Music of Change to life for visitors as they travel through the exhibition.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Rich: ….Twitter.  I have to admit, that I am fairly new to Twitter.  But it is incredible.  It has enabled me to expand the interpretation of the Freedom Center.  It has also allowed for me to interact with other professionals in weekly conversations around numerous topic in the museum and education fields.  I have made it a personal goal to tweet about a major topic that relates to the mission of the Freedom Center on a daily basis.

TourSphere: Apple or Android (or other)?

Rich: I am absolutely an Apple person.  I have everything from an iMac, iPhone, iPad, to a MacBook Pro in my collection of electronics.  I think Apple has done a wonderful job of linking all their devices through iCloud.  It makes it easier to start a project on one device and quickly pick it up on another device and continue the project where you left off.  However, I still love my basic Kindle too.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Rich: I would have to go with “Participatory.”  I think the field is continuing to find new ways for visitors both inside and beyond the walls of institutions to fully participant with our museums.  You can see this throughout the field as more museums are developing apps, learning how to utilize social media, allowing for visitors and communities to create exhibits, employing radical trust, and broadening our reach to include more diversity in the themes we cover.   Creating these types of experiences will allow for more audiences both young and old from diverse backgrounds to feel truly a part of our great museums.

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Rich: Great Question.  I would say that financial stability will remain a major topic throughout the field.  I think this will also lead to more museums talking about “mergers.”  The Freedom Center and the Cincinnati Museum Center just announced the merger of our two great institutions to help strengthen the financial stability of both institutions.  This model could be used by other museums across the nation as budgets, and funding continue to tighten over the next couple of years.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about? 

Rich: The only thing I might rant about is that I highly encourage everyone to remember that interpretation is the key.  Without good interpretation, a project will not be as successful as it could be.  You could have the coolest piece of new technology, but after a while, without good interpretation, the project will not reach its potential.  Technology is just an avenue to help bring the interpretation to life.

I highly encourage everyone to check out the new AASLH Educators & Interpreters Blog at and the Museum Minute Blog at I contribute to both blogs.

Rich, thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights!  You continue to challenge and inspire us!

Keep up with Rich here: 

Twitter: @NURFCRich

Check out the NURFC App – freedom.toursphere.com (web app) or in the Apple Store Android Marketplace.

Creating an Award-Winning Mobile App

16 Oct

After all the hard work you’ve put into developing your app, it’d be nice to get a little recognition, right? As the app landscape has exploded over the past several years, so have mobile app awards programs. At TourSphere, we’ve seen many of our clients win awards in their respective industries for fantastic apps that they’ve developed using our platform.

There’s nothing that inspires creativity than seeing what other great apps have to offer, so we thought we’d give you a taste of some of the awards TourSphere apps have won.

So how do you win one of these awards? Our biggest recommendation to you is to check out what’s available for awards in your industry and to get out there and apply for them. Spread the word about what your organization is doing that’s innovative, both within your industry and in general, with your mobile app and digital program.

If you’re building an app and would like to apply for a mobile app award yourself, here are a few you can check out!

  • The Webby Awards: Includes categories like Best Use of GPS or Location Technology, Best Use of Mobile Video and Integrated Mobile Experience
  • Digiday Mobi Awards: Honors overall excellence and breakthrough achievement in mobile media, marketing and advertising.
  • Media & Technology MUSE Awards: Recognizes outstanding achievement in museum media.

Share with us: What are the app awards in your industry?

Seb Chan on Smart Technology in Museums and “an operating system for the building”

18 Sep

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.


Photo credit JJ Halans

Seb Chan

Director of Digital & Emerging Media Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York

Seb Chan is currently the Director of Digital & Emerging Media, Smithsonian, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York. He is responsible for museum’s complete digital renewal during a time when the museum is rebuilding its main campus and transforming into a ’21st century museum’.

Until November 2011, he led the Digital, Social and Emerging Technologies department at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, where he oversaw the implementation of Open Access and Creative Commons licensing policies and many projects exploring new ways for visitors and citizens to engage and contribute to the Powerhouse’s collection, as well as state-wide and national collaborative initiatives.

As a cultural sector consultant he has helped many organisations and institutions all over the world strategise and implement cutting-edge technologies. Most recently he has been working with Culture24 in the UK on the Let’s Get Real project helping UK institutions develop better approaches to evaluating the success of digital endeavours. He also worked with Dan Hill and Marcus Westbury on the planning and development for The Edge, a digital cultural centre, at the State Library of Queensland.

He is a regular speaker on the cultural heritage and arts circuit but has also spoken more broadly at Picnic, Webstock, Web Directions South, TedXSydney.

Chan was a member of the Australian Government’s Government 2.0 Taskforce, and in a parallel life he has been heavily involved in electronic music and arts. He was the founder of Cyclic Defrost Magazine and many late night adventure playgrounds in Sydney.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Seb: For me there have been two museum experiences that have caught my attention.

The first was a visit to the Museum of Old & New Art in Hobart Tasmania just before I left Australia. I’ve blogged about that experience here – but the short version is that the ‘total immersion’ of that venue radically shifted my thinking about how museums could be exclusive without being exclusionary.

The second was a family visit to the recently renovated Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City. I was there at the tail end of a road trip, having driven through the surrounding landscapes for the previous few days. What struck me about the Utah museum was the way in which, unlike most other natural history museums, its spectacular collection (dinosaurs!) had come from the immediate surrounds. Thus it had a sense of immediacy and relevance that is very often missing from similar collections when they are transported to institutions far away.

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum recently?

Seb: I see a lot of technology in my work and in the last few years I’ve become more allergic to its presence in museums. In many ways I think the job of any technology in a museum is to ‘elegantly disappear’.

That said, I paid a short visit to the Google Chrome Web Lab at the Science Museum in London a few weeks ago and the large scale robotic drawing machines ‘herding the avatars of online visitors’ was pretty cool as were the robots drawing portraits in sand. The Chrome Web Lab was one of the more successful attempts at bringing online visitors and in-gallery visitors together to be productive in the same space.

We’re also seeing a lot of activity at the moment with 3D printing (and consumer-grade 3D digitisation) which is exciting. As I opined at the NAEA Conference in January at the Met, I’m waiting for institutions to really start rolling out the “123DCatch + Maker-Bot” consumer grade model to general visitors and schools.

TourSphere: Did your museum do something this year(or have something coming up soon) that you are especially proud of/ excited about?

Seb: The best thing we did this year was close our main campus. Not permanently, but Cooper-Hewitt is undergoing a massive renovation which is why I moved over from Australia.

This is giving us the (unique) opportunity to rethink everything from the ground up. We’re working closely with Diller, Scofidio & Renfro and Local Projects to reinvent the idea of a ‘design museum’ along with a ‘historic house’ along the way.

On one level this is allowing us to ask questions about the totality of a visitor’s experience from ticketing and food choices through to how exhibitions operate in the broader context of the building as a whole. On another level it is forcing us to consider how to ‘build technology in from the ground up’ – or, as I’m fond of quoting strategic designer Dan Hill, “creating a new operating system for the building”.

And of greatest relevance in the context of this interview, this means a true ‘mobile first’ approach – not just for visitors but also for staff.

Of course, we’re doing offsite exhibitions, national outreach and education and the rest during our campus closure. We’ve been prototyping and trialling new solutions along the way using these offsite opportunities as test environments. My web team is also currently building a new toolkit for how collections work on the web which is starting from the a position of ‘default = abundance’ which, for art museums, is counter-normal.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Seb: Working in senior management I find that any new technologies short of time travel and teleportation are always going to be a disappointment. In fact it has been the various ‘quantified self’ technologies that have been most impactful for me this year – just in terms of tracking my energy intake and usage along with stress and happiness levels. Knowing my own physical and mental states with more clarity has had significant benefits in making my overall life easier.

I haven’t really changed my ‘tools of the trade’ since I was interviewed for Uses This  so if you are interested in my hardware and software specs then that might be good reading.

TourSphere: Apple or Android (or other)?

Seb: I still hold that eventually mobile web will be the way to go.

Nevertheless, right now I am yet to find any cultural institutions that don’t have an overwhelming existing Apple-centric userbase either in the USA, UK/Europe or Australia.

Android might have far more devices out in the world but to date the evidence is that of the people who actively visit museums and use their own devices to connect to the web, it is Apple all the way. Probably the lowest Apple figures I’ve seen have been around 65-70% (and the highest being 95%).

I’m sure that if museums diversified their audiences more then we’d see a lot more Androids in the figures. And perhaps that is becoming the case for children’s’ museums and science centers but not for art museums.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Seb: “Curator-Roomba-Drones”.

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

There’s an ongoing realignment to smaller budgets, retiring staff, changing educational priorities, and greater competition for time and attention. Put together it becomes an enormous strategic challenge for museums to find the time to reinvent and realign.

Sometimes the smaller museums have the advantage despite their smaller budgets and those who find themselves in supportive communities should be doing all they can to experiment and exert their agile structures. The larger museums are all coming to terms with their own ageing bodies and failing architectures. The sensible amongst them are doubling down their efforts on structural change.

There’s also got to be a much needed new wave of focus on collections. On one hand, how to get better at ‘editing’ and ‘deaccessioning’ what we have. And on the other hand, aggressively collecting the present with better foresight as to what will matter decades (centuries?) into the future. Global collaboration –  an equivalent of the ‘global seed bank’  for art and cultural heritage into which all institutions contribute – is something that isn’t really so far fetched these days.

I get the sense that the wave of deadening managerialism is receding and this is opening up a lot of opportunities for the ‘higher risk, higher reward’-type of charismatic and visionary leadership that so many emerging museum professionals want to experience and work for/with. ‘Museums with attitude’ might be back on the cards again. Except now this attitude comes with a commitment to access.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about?  If so, please share..

Seb: I’m always ranting on my museum blog Fresh & New(er), although a little less than usual right now because of the rapid pace of change at work. My team at Cooper-Hewitt is blogging their new projects and reports over at http://labs.cooperhewitt.org too.

Thanks for sharing your sense of humor and incredible perspective with us, Seb!  We look forward to hearing more (and seeing the incredible redesign at Cooper-Hewitt!).

Keep up with Seb here:

Blog: freshandnew.org
twitter: @sebchan

Apps 101: Native apps vs. Mobile Web apps

1 Aug

I spend a lot of time talking to people and organizations – museums, hotels, universities – about mobile apps. One of the first things I like to point out is that there are different kinds of mobile apps. There are native apps like iPhone and Android apps, and there are Mobile Web apps. It’s important to understand both in order to decide what’s best for you.

What’s the Difference Between Native Apps and Web Apps?

Native apps are built to work on to work on one platform (like the iPhone), not multiple platforms. To download a native app, you need to:

1. Go to the appropriate app store

2. Search for and locate the app

3. Download the app to your device.

By contrast, Mobile Web apps are built to work across different platforms, allowing you to have one app that works on all smartphones and tablet devices. Rather than needing to go to an app store, you simply access the app through the Internet browser on your phone. No downloads needed. To access a web app, you need to:

1. Type in the app’s URL in your browser (or scan a QR code). That’s it. No downloads. No waiting.

To expand a little more on this concept: native iPhone apps only work on iPhones (and iPod Touches). Native Android apps only work on Android phones and tablets.  If you want to reach multiple platforms, you need to build multiple native apps. Additionally, native apps in most cases require a submission process which can take several days or weeks to get approval. It’s not fun giving a third-party veto power over your content.

Alternatively, you can think of a Mobile Web app as a super-slick website optimized for mobile devices. So any smartphone, tablet or even desktop computer can use web apps. Plus with advancements in HTML5 and some other programming languages, a nicely designed Mobile Web app can now be almost indistinguishable from a native app.  Mobile Web Apps now include location-aware maps, touchscreen keypads, and all sorts of snazzy buttons and footers which look just like a native app.

Here are some screen shots of Web apps which have been built on TourSphere:


Web Apps can look and function much like native apps.

Here’s a quick comparison of Native Apps vs. Mobile Web apps:


To summarize? Obviously, the right choice for your organization depends on your specific goals and connectivity situation. The goal of this post is to let you know that there are different kind of apps, so you can make the best choice for your organization.

At TourSphere, we offer both options (native and mobile web apps). We even have clients that do both: the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has a Mobile Web app for visitors that own smartphones, and they also have 300 iPod Touches loaded with a Native iOS app that they loan out to non-smartphone owners.

Having said that, here at TourSphere we are big believers in Web Apps.  In our experience they often provide the most bang for your buck when budgets are tight – allowing you to build one app and reach the maximum number of visitors.  Plus updates are quick and easy, there is no approval process with an app store, and web apps can launch instantly with no download time.

Do you have strong feelings about native apps or mobile web apps? Do you have one, or both, or neither? Jump in and join the conversation!

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