Posts tagged Cover Flow

iPhone Art Apps for Cars, Quilts, Copyright Humain, Grünes Gewölbe, & Graphic Design

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This week we have an eclectic mix of apps.  Some you may like because you are interested in the subject and in such cases I’m sure the app developers would appreciate your support and feedback as the apps covered here are not as developed as they could be with some user feedback. Even if the particular subjects of these apps do not draw your attention if you are developing an app for your institution there are design pluses and minuses of each that are worth reviewing.

Mercedes-Benz Classic

App icon for Mercedes-Benze ClassicRated Three Stars“The Mercedes-Benz Museum is the only museum in the world that can document in a single continuous timeline over 120 years of auto industry history from its very beginnings to the present day. On nine levels and covering a floor space of 16,500 square metres, the museum presents 160 vehicles and over 1,500 exhibits.” – From the developer description.

The Mercedes-Benz Classic app is impressive for the sheer quantity of content covered in the app. Users gain access to all 160 vehicles within the Mercedes-Benz museum tours. If you want a pocket encyclopedia for Mercedes-Benz’s history then this app is a good start.  This app represents a good start on a number of fronts. I like the use of Cover Flow however,  Mercedes-Benz could learn a few things from the Rubens, Poussin and 17th Century Artist (HD) app (see my review here).  For example, in the Rubens app once the user selects an image to view the controls shift to a slideshow view.  In the Mercedes-Benz app after viewing each image the user has to resurface to the Cover Flow view before proceeding. Also odd is that the user is requested to shift from landscape view to portrait view in order to view “more info”? (There’s even a nice graphic icon to illustrate this odd request for the user).  Also odd is the inability to slide through the audio in this app. I thought slider controls were almost a standard feature by now. If the user wants to rehear something they briefly missed they have to start from the beginning. Additionally, any automobile magazine in publication includes multiple perspectives on a vehicle reviewed but here the viewer gets but one static image of each vehicle. Not even an interior shot of a dashboard.

This app has real potential as a foundation to bring alive the Mercedes-Benz history and in doing so provide a broader perspective on automotive history in general.  However, in the current version this app misses the chance to be more than a corporate feeling piece of marketing which is slightly disappointing.  What’s missing is a sense of authenticity in the storytelling. All the audio clips are in the single professional voice on one woman provided while the user views a single image.  While being completely professional in her delivery of scripted information about each vehicle there’s, for lack of a better description, a human element missing in the audio.  The information provided in the audio clips are informative but the cumulative effect of this one professional voice is as if listening to the public address voice in a science-fiction film.  Why isn’t the audio interspersed with voices from automobile historians, automobile journalists, and automobile enthusiasts?

Screenshot of Hector Prieto's Collectivo

Hector Prieto's Restored Collectivo

For example, in the screenshot  to the right is Hector Prieto’s collectivo which operated for thirty years on the streets of Buenos Aires. Wouldn’t it be great to hear Mr. Prieto tell the story of this bus if he’s available or even a relative or business associate? What about a video with shots of collectivo’s operating in Beunos Aires? Are there archival shots of the bus? You get the idea. The point here is the contrast between a corporate approach to the app’s content and a more thoughtful curated approach.  Providing less quantity of content but of a richer quality creates a better app experience for the user than an exhaustive but shallow touch-the-base approach. Although there are audio clips for each picture (to Mercedes-Benz’s credit) the overall feel of the app is as if we are in the black and white era of movies before the talkies were invented.  For example, the “Stories” section of the Mercedes-Benz app pales in comparison to the “Love Stories” in The Phillips Collection app (see my review here).

This app excels in including information users expect but are often disappointed to find lacking in other apps. In addition to the “Museum” there are options to explore the “Marketplace”, “News”, “Clubs & Community” and “Specials” (links to other Mercedes-Benz apps).  In the “Marketplace” there’s a museum shop which teasingly provides descriptions of Mercedes-Benz’s DVDs, model cars, books etc. which the user can view but you’ll have to search elsewhere to buy as there are no links or means to purchase in the app. “Clubs & Community”  provides information and links to the 80 plus Mercedes-Benz Trademark Clubs as well as upcoming events.

Now if we can only get Mr. Lauren to create an app for his fabulous collection.

The Mercedes-Benz Classic app is free and informative but falls short of the design standards one would expect from Mercedes-Benz. In short, it’s a bit rough around the design edges.  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

The corporate museum is naturally a combination of education and brand sales and when done well can provide for a rich and rewarding experience. For interested readers here’s an excellent article on “The Corporate Museum“.

Quilt Index To Go

App icon for Quilt Index

Rated Two StarsQuilt Index To Go “brings you a unique quilt every day, and allows you to scroll endlessly through the more than 50,000 quilts in the Quilt Index contributed by more than 25 museums, libraries, and documentation projects. View historic and contemporary quilts straight from the Quilt Index with detailed information about pattern names, dates, quiltmakers, and the collections that contributed them.You can follow links to their detailed collections records on the online Quilt Index for even more information.” – from the developer description.

The Quilt Index is undeniably an ambitious collaborative project and it is amazing to think of all of the coordinated efforts to bring together “resources on quilts, quiltmakers and quiltmaking in a centralized online repository for education, research and public assess”  for the online Quilt Index, a joint project of The Alliance for American Quilts, MATRIX: Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University and the Michigan State University Museum.

Screenshot of "For All the World to See"

Screenshot of "For All the World to See"

Viewport View for Online Information

Viewport View for Online Information

Recently the online Quilt Index released an upgraded version of the repository which allows for users to see 60 quilts per page in a “grid” view, view a quilt without leaving the search results, sort search results by maker, pattern, date or ID number, and search by specific years and locations.  However, the current version of Quilt Index To Go does not yet contain these navigation and search conveniences.  When they say the user can “scroll endlessly” they mean it literally in this case. The user’s only option to browse the quilts is to swipe, swipe, swipe.   It’s probably best to think of this app as a public beta forming the beginnings of a bridge with the online repository. Once search and navigation features make their way from the website to the mobile app this will be a much more user friendly app.

The app includes a viewport view which facilitates viewing the online repository however, online the user is able to click and drag on the quilt image and see a close up of the area of the quilt highlighted.  The online experience doesn’t translate to the app and trying to use two fingers to zoom doesn’t result in the same quality of experience as online. The Quilt Index recently received a $100,000 planning grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to “to build a collaborative virtual museum across dozens of countries and cultures that share a passion for quilting”. As these ambitious plans mature I’m sure the Quilt Index To Go app experience will only get richer.

The Quilt Index To Go costs $0.99 on Apple’s App Store and this costs goes toward support the app’s ongoing development. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

Copyright Humain

App icon for Human Copyright

Rated Three StarsThe description for the app for the recent Human Copyright exhibition at Musee de la Civilisation in Quebec sounds promising enough. “The Human Copyright exhibition maps the journey of the most fundamental human faculty – thought – which paved the way for civilization. From the origins of thought to artificial intelligence. The ability to think, unique to our species, is OUR Human Copyright. This application tells that fascinating story. The Human Copyright exhibition on human thought was presented at the Musee de la civilisation from November 2009 to September 2010. However, the application can be viewed without a visit to the exhibition.”- from the developer’s description.

After the user selects from a choice of French or English, the app begins with a brief introduction to the exhibition and includes a short video demonstration of how to use the app. I think it is a thoughtful touch that the developers included this demonstration video. This is not a complicated app to navigate but it is very considerate of the developers to add this video to aid users.  Something which app developers might consider making a standard feature as not all apps are as straightforward to navigate as Copyright Humain.Screenshot of Audio Guide Stops

And with that start the user has reason to suspect that they will indeed be able to view the exhibition but they may be disappointed, at least initially.  What the user experiences instead is something akin a psychiatrist’s couch.  While the soft smooth voice of the male narrator gently describes a particular stop on the tour the screen plays a morphing blue blob that is I guess, the app equivalent of a lava lamp. For example, stop number eight is “The Trials and Tribulations of Descartes’ Skull” and we hear the voice of the narrator say, “René Descartes died while he was living in Sweden in 1650. A few years later, France asked for his body to be repatriated. But the grave diggers were bribed and the body wasn’t returned in its entirety. His head remained in Sweden, where it become the object of several transactions. In fact, the signatures that you see on the skull are signs of the pride of certain owners.” That there might be several collector’s signatures on Descartes’ skull seems a bit shocking. Instead of seeing a picture of Descartes’ skull the viewer sees this movie clip.

Essentially, the first half of the content of the Human Copyright app turns out to be a straightforward audio guide with 20 stops, accompanied by the aforementioned lava lamp video, followed by a bonus video interview with the artist Louis-Philippe Demers. Following the audio guide section though is a section of the exhibition entitled “Artificial Dialogue”. 16 audio and video clips with scientists, philosophers, writers and a Buddhist monk among others. The effect of these multiple viewpoints coupled with the audio guide makes for a stimulating meditation on “thought”. After viewing a video clip the user is given an option to submit a comment about this video to the museum or to “send this interview by email”. The link emailed will take the recipient to a page with all 16 of the video and audio clips. One small glitch here though is that the link from the English version of the app takes one to the French video clips without the subtitles. The user can locate the link on the web page to the English page which has subtitles but if you received the link to the clip and didn’t know there were subtitles available you could easily miss this.

One final note on the name of the app.  On Apple’s App Store the app is listed as “MCQ” for Musee de la Civilisation, Quebec. The app description refers to the “Human Copyright” exhibition but if you search for “Human” on your iPhone after downloading you won’t find the app. The user has to search for “Copyright”, “Humain”, or “MCQ” because the title of the exhibition is Copyright Humain.  It would seem to be a bit more user friendly if the name on the App Store, the description, and the name of the app as on the iPhone synced up consistently and most preferably with that of the exhibition itself.

MCQ, Copyright Humain is a free app on Apple’s App Store.  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.2 or later.

Grünes Gewölbe

App icon for Grünes Gewölbe

Rated Two StarsAs this app begins large metal doors swing open on the screen and the user is welcomed to the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) in the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace) in Dresden, Germany. The screen changes and immediately the user has a rotating 360 degree panoramic shot of the Large Vaulted Hall (1).  The user can stop the rotating view with the touch of a finger and then in a limited fashion control the view of the Hall on the screen. Limited because the user can’t zoom in on any of the display cases in the room or change viewing angles. However, this app could have benefited from a brief demonstration video because as it turns out you can move from one room to the next by holding your finger on the image of the door or opening to the next room. The 360 degree panoramic shots really establish the scene for the virtual visitor. Often, as is the case with the Grünes Gewölbe, the experience for the virtual visitor is vastly enhanced with this simple addition.  Without the 360 degree panoramic shots this app would be a much different experience.

Jewel Room ScreenshotAcross the bottom of the screen is four simple tabs: “Groundplan”, “Objects”, “Info” and Settings. The “Groundplan” gives the viewer a color coded map by which to orient the rooms.  The design of the map is such that one would think that you can tap on the map and be taken to the room. And indeed this is the case but at present the experience is a bit buggy.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In a simple but very thoughtful design touch whenever you tap “Objects” the objects presented to the viewer match with the room the viewer is currently visiting. Developers most often seem to insert a list view here adding a tap by the user. In Grünes Gewölbe when you are viewing a room you automatically have access to the objects in that room. A simple design step that reduces the friction of the user experience.  However, in the next step this app adds friction unnecessarily.  All the objects in the room are presented in one long scrolling screen (which also acts in a rather buggy fashion).  A better user experience would have been to incorporate a Cover Flow approach or at least to have provided a separate viewing screen for each object.  The user also can’t zoom and pan on each object image as would be desirable.  The text accompanying each object image provides only the most basic information. There are no audio or video clips aiding in interpretation so the overall effect is as if flipping through an art auction catalogue. The “Info” tab provides a brief text history of the Green Vault, visitor information and an aerial shot of the Royal Palace.

Every since Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five I’ve been curious about Dresden and this app add’s to my curiosity.  In it’s current version, however, the Grünes Gewölbe leaves quite a bit out which is unfortunate. Pretty pictures alone do not an app make.

The Grünes Gewölbe app is available on Apple’s App Store for $0.99. The description on the store indicates German only for the language but the text on the app downloaded from the US store is in English. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.2 or later

Graphic Design Museum

App icon for Graphic Design Museum

Rated Three StarsDid you enjoy the excellent design documentary Objectified by Gary Hustwit? If so then I think you’ll enjoy this app which has been downloaded over 16,000 times since March and ranked by Appylizer.com in 71 countries. Didn’t see Objectified or Helvetica? Well you should still check out the Graphic Design Museum’s well designed app.  It’s not perfect. And some features are a little glitchy but the overall user experience is smooth.

The Graphic Design Museum is the first museum in the world for graphic design. The museum is in the centre of Breda, Netherlands and exhibits the broad and dynamic area of graphic design. The Graphic Design Museum places current graphic design in an historical and cultural context, open to the world and technology. It represents all forms of media, from print material to interactive web design.This App shows highlights from the collection with explanatory texts, images and video interviews about different exhibitions currently on display.”-from the developer’s description.

Screenshot with grid view of nine graphic images

Fingers and eyes dance in concert together as the user explores the content on this app. The start up screen shows two exhibitions, “100 Years of Graphic Design” and “Infodecodata” and the tab bar below has five options: “Explore”, “Map”, “Search”, “Agenda”, and “Info”.  This gives the user three ways to navigate to the content. “Search” provides not only a search field but also a standard list view of the images available. “Map” provides a floor plan with pin drops associated with images located in their respective spots. From “Explore” the user taps one of the two exhibitions and the screen changes to a creative variation on the Cover Flow design.  A grid of nine images fills the screen with the central one size prominently, and the user can swipe in any direction to explore. Up, down, left, right, and even diagonally. Tap any image in the grid and it moves to the central space. Tap again (an unnecessary tap really) and the image fills out the screen. The user can zoom and pan. Tap the image and it flips to reveal a text image. And here is one of my few complaints about this app. Sometimes the text for the image is brief and other times the user scrolls through several screens.  Screenshot of floor plan view with pin drop markers relating to image locationsAt the bottom of the text is a “links” section which always includes a link back to the image and sometimes includes video clips. Below that sometimes there are links to related works (an appreciated touch). My complaint is that we’re now at the opposite extreme from an app which is too structured around the stops on an audio tour. Here it’s impossible to know images have video clips associated and which do not without having to flip each image to the text and then scroll to the bottom of the text.  There’s no shortcuts or alternate routes available to the user.  So if the user has a few minutes and would like to watch a video clip they may get lucky and locate one or the few minutes might be spent searching with no luck.

At the top of each image screen is a button encouraging the user to “React!”. Tapping this button their is a field to input your name and add comments.  What is interesting is that these comments are then associated with that image for other users to read (after some moderation?). There are only a few works which have comments associated with them so it doesn’t seem this feature has been well promoted.  But the potential is there. Also below the comments field is a choice of rating the image with a thumbs up or thumbs down.  However, on every image I tried pressing one or the other the app crashed.  Still the potential is there.

One final note regarding the video clips.  These are available in English and Dutch. The English clips have English voiceovers over the Dutch speakers.  Comparing this with the way the Copyright Humain used subtitles for the French speakers I’d have to say I found the voiceover experience on the iPhone to be better than using subtitles.

The Graphic Design Museum is a free app on Apple’s App Store for English and Dutch languages. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

10 iPhone Apps for Current Art Exhibitions (Part 2)

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Amidst your holiday preparations and travels here are some iPhone apps for current art exhibitions in Paris, London, Zurich, and Lincoln, Massachusetts to perhaps give you a few moments of enriched time .This is the second of two post related to current art exhibition apps.  Click here for Part 1.

6. Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)

Through January 24, 2011 – Galeries nationales du Grand Palais – Paris

App icon for Monet the visitRated Three StarsBy my count there are 17 iPhone apps on Apple’s App Store directly related to Monet and probably that many and more devoted to French Impressionism in general. I may just have to devote a post or a whole week of posts to reviewing just Monet apps just to explore the various ways developers are approaching the work of this one artist.  The app for the current exhibition “Claude Monet (1840-1926)” at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais is :  Monet the visit : exhibition at the Grand Palais 2010 – Acoustiguide Smartour. Alastair Sooke writes in The Telegraph that, “Over-amiliarity with the work of Claude Monet has robbed it of much of its potency. Now a new Paris exhibition is looking to recall the dazzling storm the artist caused nearly 150 years ago”.  For one visitor’s reaction to attending the exhibition I recommend Rebecca Taylor‘s blog post, “Beyond the First Impression: Rediscovering Monet in Paris“.

“Monet the visit” is the audio guide downloaded. The exhibition contains over 160 works by Monet and with 43 audio clips this app has an impressive percentage of them covered.  I appreciate the improvement of being able to download the audio guide in advance of attending an exhibit, skipping a line to pick up the audio guide, and having it handy after the visit as well. However, to me the audio guide is a nice to have, handy and perfunctorily functional. I like them but I don’t love them.  However, for the purpose of this blog I’m viewing “Monet the visit” as an app, not to detract from its appeal as an audio guide but to consider what is translating in this app by a leader in audio and multimedia interpretation guides that works within the app experience.  How does the app stand alone as an app experience?

Screenshot of Rue MontorgueilScreenshot of First Floor Map

What I appreciate in “Monet the visit” is the “Map” view which provides a floor plan for each of the two floors of the exhibition (this is the same format as in Acoustiguide’s app for the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco-read a good review by Sarah Dines of that app here).  Sure the map view provides the same information as the list view but for me the map view gives a better sense of how the exhibition unfolds. Which painting is located near which? For me the map view gives a better sense at times of which paintings to compare and contrast at times as I might if I were at the exhibition. A nice touch might have been to add an introductory video which included a visual overview of the gallery layout much like in the “Curator’s Introduction” on the app for Yoshitomo Nara.

This app, as its name indicates, is intended to accompany a visit to the exhibition therefore it’s to be forgiven if when listening to the audio for a particular work the user decides to tap on the image of the work to take a closer look the audio stops. The same thing happens when the user taps the icon for “learn more”.  Therefore the user has the choice of listening to the audio or learning more but cannot do both at the same time. For the user who is not in front of the paintings being discussed this is a little frustrating particularly when the narrator suggest taking a closer look at a particular portion of the painting.  Compare this with more seamless experience in the Infinity of Nations app or the cultY Picasso app reviewed below.

I’ve already noted that Acoustiguide’s Houdini app could benefit from a greater efficiency in the flow of user taps and the same applies here (Interestingly Sarah Dines noted this as an “emerging pet peeve” for her in her review of Acoustiguide’s Asian Art Museum-San Francisco) .  Jonathan Wegener has a nice post on the economy of taps for interested readers. Lonely Planet, for example, recently simplified its ‘City Guides for iPhone’ travel app to a ‘three taps or less’ promise. For a more in-depth read on well developed tap design I highly recommend Tapworthy by Josh Clark and his credo, “Every element of your app has to be tapworthy”.

Monet the visit” works fine as an audio guide, as intended, and at $3.99 is a bargain if you intend to visit the exhibition.  However, while the audio clips here are informative I didn’t find the overall experience of the app to be engaging for the virtual visitor. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

7. Muybridgizer

Through January 16, 2011 – Tate Britain – London

App icon for MuybridgizerRated Three Stars

Muybridgizer is a fun app of modest ambitions that is currently the 63rd most popular photography app in the UK App Store and is also ranked by Applyzer.com in 65 other countries. This might not seem like much compared to a hit game app at present but it really highlights the prospective reach of a creative museum app. Among the apps I have reviewed thus far on this blog this is the most countries in which I’ve seen a museum app ranked.  And it seems really hard for a museum app of any kind at present to break the top 100 in any category.  Though I’m confident that that blockbuster museum app is not too far off.

“The Muybridgizer allows iPhone photographers to take pictures inspired by the iconic works of early photographer Eadweard Muybridge. The release of the app celebrates the opening of a major exhibition of Muybridge’s work at Tate Britain. The Muybridgizer freeze-frames the moving world, just as Muybridge did with subjects ranging from running horses to leapfrogging boys. In homage to the analogue Victorian beauty of the originals, users can Muybridge-ize their frames with grids and sepia tones, transforming their moving images into striking vitage-style pictures.” -From the Tate Gallery’s description.

Screenshot of AboutScreenshot of Share Options - Flickr, Email, Save (to Photo Library)

Commissioned by Tate,  Nexus Interactive Arts directors Theo Watson & Emily Gobeille have created an app that playfully teaches a little about the man who showed that “horses can fly” by allowing users a chance to create their own Muybridgized photos. First the user selects a grid size of 3×3 or 4×4 and then rather you want a “fast” or “slow” selection.  Choose based upon the speed of the movement of the subject you are photographing.  After capturing your selected subject the user is presented with the finished grid. Tap on the grid and your Muybridgized sequence is ready for a spin. Swipe the image and your sequence swirls past like an old time Zoopraxiscope.

The Muybridgizer automatically saves your work to a “Gallery” unless you choose to delete it.  You can also save it to your iPhones Photo Library but the real fun of these photos is playing them in your Muybridgizer app so I’d group this with your other photo apps such as Instagram (It won’t be long until you see a few Muybridgized videos on your friends Facebook wall). Next the Muybridgizer gives you the option of sharing your work on the Muybridgizer Flickr Group, emailing to a friend, or, as mentioned, saving to your iPhones Photo Library. This would be particularly enjoyable if when you received a friend’s Muybridgized photos you could play them on your Muybridgizer but that doesn’t seem to be the case unfortunately.

What I appreciate in the Muybridgizer app (aside from introducing that Star Trek-ish word into my vocabulary) is how simply but effectively the experience of the app conveys the joy that viewers must have felt when Eadweard Muybridge first unveiled his Zoopraxiscope. Isn’t it that type of moment of delight that encourages you to want to explore more?  As such I think, modest as this app is, Muybridgizer’s effective in giving users a bit of fun rather they intend to visit the related exhibition or not. In either case this app gives the curious a jumping off point for exploring more and for seeing anew the creative leap of Mr. Muybridge. By such simple departure points are muses often inspired.

Muybridgizer is currently a free app (for a limited time) on Apple’s App Store. Compatible with iPhone and iPod touch (4th generation). Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

8. cultY Picasso (EN)

Through January 30, 2011 – Kunsthaus Zurich – Zurich

App icon for Picasso Kunsthaus ZurichRated Three StarsIf I may a couple of housekeeping notes to begin with, cultY Picasso continues the intriguing  tradition of naming apps for exhibitions by the vendor’s name rather than the exhibition name or the institution (see “Naming your app” for more of this).  Seems to me if I had funded the development of an app for an exhibition at my institution I would want the name of the exhibition as the app name if for no other reason than to aid visitors in locating the app when searching on the app store.  Second bit of housekeeping, when the app is for an exhibition it is helpful if one of the two links on the app store description links to the exhibition website or at least the institution website.  Why have both links pointing to the vendor? And finally, there are two “cultY Picasso (EN)” available on the US Apple App Store, this is the link for the one that is in English.

“To mark its centenary, the Kunsthaus Zurich is paying tribute to Pablo Picasso, the towering genius of the twentieth century, with a comprehensive homage to a sensational show. This was the artist’s first ever museum-based retrospective, held in 1932. The exhibition, which ran from September to November of that year at the Kunsthaus Zurich, had been put together by the Spanish painter in person – a revolution in the art world. It was new for the works in a museum-based exhibition to be selected by the artist himself, rather than the museum director. Now, around 100 of the best pieces from that show are on display at the Kunsthaus once again – a unique experience!”-From the App Store description.

Screenshot Picasso  Kunsthaus Zurich

Opening Screenshot for cultY Picasso

Screenshot of Alphabetical View of Audio Guide

Screenshot of Alphabetical View of the Audio Guide

The opening screen (to the left) of this app is welcoming and inviting for the viewer. Instantly it conveys multiple paths by which the user may explore and makes prominent that which curator and developer would encourage the user to begin their journey.

Tapping “Picasso” reveals the audio guide and the user has a choice between the numerical order of the audio stops or an alphabetical view (right screenshot). Navigational choice really makes an app more interesting to explore. The question is how to offer choice that is relevant to the exhibition without cluttering the limited screen.

Given that the audio clips here vary in focus between works of art, biographical information and overviews of different periods in the artist’s oeuvre it might make more sense to have these as the navigation options rather than “ABC” and “Keypad”.  “Keypad” seems redundant to “123”. While “ABC” might be useful as an index and thus say for returning to a particular piece for further review, it doesn’t feel natural as a way to first explore the content of this app.  Tapping “Biography” on the home screen takes the user to a screen with a very long scroll of text providing biographical details from throughout Picasso’s long life.  However, there is only eight pictures which the user swipes in slideshow fashion across the top of this screen and no accompanying audio clips in this section.  This is odd given that some of the same pictures accompany audio clips in the audio guide section. Breaking up the long biographical scroll into bite size chunks with more pictures and tying in the related audio might make this content more interesting to explore.  As it is it’s a convenient but not too inviting reference. Compare this with the navigation options for the Gauguin app I reviewed last week in Part 1.

Screenshot for "The Italian Woman"

Screenshot for "The Italian Woman"

Screenshot of Zoom Detail from "The Italian Woman"

Screenshot of Zoom Detail from "The Italian Woman"

Tap a stop on the audio guide and the audio clip begins automatically (always an appreciated default-tap economy remember). As the audio clip plays the user is free to tap on the image, zoom around and explore the image of the art work in closer detail even as the audio continues uninterrupted. That’s really not much to ask for but the difference in experience between those apps that pay attention to this level of detail and those that don’t is the difference between static in your headset and music to your ears.

An example of when this app really shines is in  “Three Still Lifes”. Here the narrator examines “Wine Bottle” (1926),  “Mandolin and Guitar” (1924), and “Studio with Plaster Head”(1925).  While listening to the short video clip the user can swipe Cover Flow style the three works of art, select one and zoom in and around the selected image, select another and repeat, scroll down and receive basic information including noting in this case that one of the works is part of the Guggenhiem collection in New York and the other is in the MoMA’s collection. Something to keep in mind for a future visit to New York as  a follow up to this oasis of an art moment with this app. And isn’t that how museum apps are likely to be experienced by the virtual visitor?  Small moments of suddenly enriched time while standing in line at the grocery store, or the security line at the airport (and many other longer portions of airport/airplane).  And all the while, during the user’s tapping around, uncovering and exploring the audio continues uninterrupted. (My wish list item to those working on TourML would be that someway I could bookmark these two works on loan from New York museums such that next time I’m visiting New York and these works are back on display I can have an ah-ha moment and make a point of seeing the originals.) The only thing missing from this example is what Hollywood would call the establishing shot.  Give the viewer a picture or video of the three works of art in the same space.

cultY Picasso offers hints of an exhibition related app’s potential and as such I recommend downloading rather or not you plan to attend the exhibition. Picasso has served as a source of inspiration for many a muse and this app might inspire a few more. This is a free app and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

9. Rubens, Poussin and 17th Century Artists (HD)

Through January 24, 2011 – Jacquemart-Andre Museum – Paris

App icon for Rubens, Poussin, and 17th Century Artists (HD)

Rated Four StarsIf like me you’ve been curiously wondering “what if an app adopted Cover Flow as it’s primary means of navigation?” then you will definitely want to download Rubens, Poussin and 17th Century Artists (HD) produced by Culturespaces and developed by Smartapps. For those not familiar with Cover Flow imagine being able to flip through images of the works of art in an exhibition like a photo album (see the first screen shot below).  The aesthetic appeal of this method of navigation is immediate. The work of art itself is the most prominent image on the screen and not the stop number of the audio tour, or the title with a thumbnail of the work of art but the art work itself.  For the virtual visitor this greatly improves the experience of strolling through the exhibition freely by scrolling through the images. The user has the feeling one does when you walk into an exhibition and follow your eyes. Which painting captures your eyes’ attention and draws you in to explore?  For the virtual visitor on the go catching a few minutes of art during a subway ride or passing time while a spouse shops etc. the Cover Flow navigation is brilliant.  The user experience is such that you are drawn into the art because it puts the art front and center.  Your eyes lead your fingers. Like the app for Infinity of Nations the user doesn’t spend a lot of mental energy figuring out the technology (or tap, tap, tap, tapping) you are immediately immersed in the art.

Screenshot of Cover Flow View

Screenshot of Cover Flow View

The screenshot to the right shows how straightforward and intuitive this app is when in the Cover Flow view. In the lower left is the “i” icon for information, which in this view provides visitor information such as hours the museum is open, address, links to the website, as well as credits for exhibition and the app. In the lower right is an icon for the keypad for on-site visitors. And as you notice the title of the work of art, the artists, and date of the work of art are noted below the image of the art work.  Is this not an aesthetically pleasing balance of information that has its priorities in order?

"The Apotheosis of Germanicus" in Slide Show View

"The Apotheosis of Germanicus" in Slideshow View

Tap on the image of the work of art in the center and the selected work becomes the center of focus. Controls in the lower left of this view allow the user to stay in Slideshow view and tap forward or backwards or return to the Cover Flow view. Tap the “Play” icon to play the audio, or the “Key Pad” icon to select another number (handy for the on-site visitor) and in this case the “Information” icon displays information pertinent to the selected work of art. Tap the image again and the controls disappear (the default should be to have these fadeout after a few seconds).

Zoom Detail from "The Apotheosis of Germanicus"

Zoom Detail from "The Apotheosis of Germanicus"

However, once you’ve tapped the image and the controls have disappeared the user can use two fingers to zoom in with great detail on the work of art.  Have I mentioned that once the user has pressed the “Play” icon and the audio starts that you are able to continue your exploration of the selected work of art without the audio stopping. From the moment you open this app down to selecting an image, listening to the accompanying audio, zooming around the selected image, everything feels frictionless. The user rarely stops to figure out the technology. In this app it’s all about getting out of the users way so they can be engaged with the work of art.

In the spirit of bonus material on DVDs there are three videos available at the beginning of the Cover Flow view which include a “trailer”, an “introduction” and a “making of”.  Savvy institutions will release these online in advance of the exhibition and the app’s release to drum up interest in both. The “making of” video here isn’t that creative actually and is missing audio commentary from the curator which would be most appreciated in this context.

Rubens, Poussin and 17th century artists (HD) is $3.99 on the Apple’s App Store and includes twenty of the sixty works of art in this exhibition plus the aforementioned videos. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

10. Scapes

Extended through the end of the year – DeCordova, Lincoln, Massachusetts

App icon for Scapes

Rated Four Stars“The Scapes iPhone app is the front-end for a sound art installation by Halsey Burgund exhibited at the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA. Scapes augments the physical landscape of the park with a location-sensitive layer of audio. This audio layer contains a mixture of instrumental music and spoken voices – contributed by participants – both of which are influenced by the participant’s location within the sculpture park. As such, the participant’s body becomes the primary mode of interaction with this project; as they move through the park, they control how their individual audioscape unfolds by shifting the instrumental music and “running into” audio left by other participants. It is designed to work fully only while at the museum, so using the app while anywhere else will result in an incomplete experience…sorry!” from the artist’s description.

Although we might not get to experience Scapes in situ here is an intro video to give you some sense of how this is experienced.

Scapes Intro from Halsey Burgund on Vimeo.

The Scapes iPhone app has a simple interface.  On the welcome screen the user has two choices: “Listen” or “Speak”.  Tap listen and you will hear the voices of other museum visitors who have contributed their comments.

Screenshot of "What voices do you want to listen to?"Screenshot of "What questions do you want to listen to?"Imagine that “As participants walk around the sculpture park, the individual path they follow creates their own personal version of the Scapes audio experience. The music is directly influenced by the landscape and is composed using custom algorithms which constantly generate new music; there are no repeated loops.” from the artist’s Vimeo site.

Users do have some filtering options. Tap “Who” (left screenshot) and uncheck voices you do not want to hear.  Tap “What” (right screenshot) and uncheck the questions you don’t want to hear answers from.

If on the other hand the user wishes to “Speak” after selecting “Who is going to speak? Boy, Girl, Man, Woman” the app asks “What do you want to talk about?” and gives you five choices:

Scapes is an excuse to talk to yourself about anything at all.  Go for it.

Ask a question of those who come after you.

Tell a story inspired by something you see or feel here.

Look straight up and describe what you see.

Tell us about someone you wish was here with you right now.  Talk to him/her.

Nancy Proctor recently wrote about her experience with Scapes:

“Over the past decade, I’ve taken innumerable audio tours and tried a lot of variations on that basic mobile theme at museums and cultural sites on five continents. Inspired by Janet Cardiff and by Antenna Theater, to whose creative vision and innovative spirit I owe my career, I have said for years that it would be the artists who would show us how to use mobile to its fullest: how to push the boundaries of the technology and create truly transformative experiences and content. More recently, I have argued that mobile should be deployed primarily as a social media platform, creating conversations that go beyond the uni-directional, broadcast mode of traditional audio tours. But never did I dare dream that the realization of these principles would result in a mobile experience as profound or as exciting as what I experienced earlier this week at Halsey Burgund’s installation, “Scapes,” at the deCordova Sculpture Park. I have never left an exhibition so reluctantly in my life.” I would encourage you to read her full review of this experience here.

I felt hesitant about including this app because I haven’t had the chance to personally experience it on-site as the artist intended.  However, it is such a creative and fascinating example of what is possible that I would be amiss if I didn’t include it here.

The iPhone app for Scapes is available for free on Apple’s App Store. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch (2nd generation), iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

Follow A Culture Trail App

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Guide books for culture trails have aided travelers for ages and now we’re seeing these become available as apps for smartphones. This certainly makes the traveler’s load a bit lighter during the journey but are these apps good at inspiring traveler’s to make the journey in the first place? Do they give the user a reason to follow the culture trail? To get excited about the various stops along the trail? To want to return to portions of the trail missed on a first or second visit? Or are they reference tools for when the traveler is in the midst of the journey providing logistical information in a convenient easy to navigate format? I would suggest that the best culture trail apps will inspire the journey, prove useful during the journey, and of course these days, allow the traveler to share real-time bits of their experience on the trail with not only their social network of friends but also leave tips for future travelers on the trail. Here’s a look at two culture trail apps.

Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail

A Story Like No Other

Rated Three Stars
On February 27, 2008 Louisiana’s Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu kicked off Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail with a press conference and was joined by former head Grambling baseball coach and Hall of Famer Wilbert Ellis. A twelve minute plus video of the press conference is located here and worth viewing for the background behind the creation of this cultural heritage trail.

A Story Like No Other app icon

A Story Like No Other

The Louisiana African American Heritage Trail takes visitors to museums, heritage sites, institutions and cultural attractions in all corners of Louisiana. At the ESSENCE Music Festival in New Orleans this summer the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism expanded the trail from its original 26 sites to 33 sites and launched a related app entitled, “A Story Like No Other“. The invitation to explore this rich cultural heritage trail begins on the app with a video featuring Grammy Award winner Chris Thomas King with music arranged by New Orleans composer Jay Weigel. This video also greets visitors to the related website.

A Story Like No Other is an easy to navigate app  with four icons along the bottom.  The “Home” icon contains the aforementioned video and links to the related website, to the Visit Louisiana Travel website, to becoming a fan on Facebook, and to following on Twitter. The “Explore” icon provides a list of the sites and one can choose to view these on a Google map.

Screen shot of stop #1 New Orleans AFrican American Museum

Stop #1 New Orleans African American Museum

Tap a stop from the list of 33 sites and you are taken to a screen such as the one to the right for stop #1 New Orleans African American Museum. As you can see there is convenient links enabling the user to locate this museum on the map, call the museum and visit the museum website. Most inviting though is the “Voices from the Trail with storyteller Louis Gossett, Jr.“. These provide the real hook for why to visit the cultural institution or site.  Not every stop includes an audio clip but hopefully this is something that will be expanded upon in the future. Can you imagine the stories if they allowed visiters to upload their own? Taking a page from Nina Simon they could even allow other visitors to do the curating so that the most engaging and relevant rose to the top. Designers of culture trail apps take note: including the audio clip is a good hook to draw the user in. What about a video with an invitation from the museum director or an authentic voice from a prominent cultural figure?

Not visible in the screen shot are buttons for a user to “Add to Favorites” allowing you to put together a customized itinerary. You can also choose “Share Location” which creates an email with the following text (which you can edit), “Hi, I’m exploring Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail on my iPhone, and discovered a trail site I thought you’d like: http://www.astorylikenoother.com/explore/sites/1.php You can learn more about the heritage trail at AStoryLikeNoOther.com. Or explore it on your own with the free iPhone app: http://www.astorylikenoother.com/iphone Enjoy!”.  All the relevant information included and most important the link provided is specific to the location the user wants to share.  How many times have you seen the app developer be lazy and provide a generic message leaving the user to figure out on their own how to link to the specific information they really would like to share. And finally there is also a “Directions to here” button.  The final icon “Editorial” provides news and announcements specific to the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.

A short demo video of the A Story Like No Other app is located here. This is a free app and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

Connecticut Art Trail

Rated Two StarsYou know, I really wanted to like this app.  The description on Apple’s App Store sounds so promising. “Discover the Connecticut Art Trail! Visit world-class museums and historic sites and explore the lively communities in which they reside. Use the CT Art Trail mobile guide to learn about thirteen museums featured on the Trail. Each museum offers an individual guide which delivers location-specific information for each museum.”

App icon for Connecticut Art Trail

Connecticut Art Trail

Unfortunately, this app has no soul.  Maybe it’s just the contrast with the very soulful “A Story Like No Other” but that’s what’s missing from this app. The information is useful and practical but there’s nothing in this app that makes me think, “man, I’ve got to make a trip along the Connecticut Art Trail sometime”.

It doesn’t take a user long in playing around with this app to realize how cookie cutter it feels. This app could be about anything. Take out the museums and put in Connecticut Horse Farms and the feel of the app would stay the same. Sure the information about the museums would be change with information about horses but mostly this app doesn’t feel about the museums anyway.

Screenshot of Connecticut Art Trail app

I think this is an example of what happens when the app itself is all vendor centric in its design. In this case the vendor is Geodelic.  According to Geodelic’s website the premise of this product is this: “The GeoGuides Platform is a location-based content network of local directories which provides carriers, advertisers, and business a way to easily connect with customers while encouraging loyalty, simplifying discovery and increasing revenue.” I’m sure that the GeoGuides Platform has very good uses.  I just don’t think this is it.

Now one feature of the app that I did like was the “Carousel” view pictured in the screenshot to the right.  The concept is similar to  “Cover Flow” in iTunes.  Imagine instead of album covers this is for exhibitions at the museum (as it is in this app) and tapping on one causes it to flip and reveal rich multimedia and more related specific to that exhibit.  Now that might be inviting.

The Connecticut Art Trail app is a free app from Apple’s App Store and is compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

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