What are Mobiles?


Mobiles as a category have proven more interesting and more capable with each passing year, and continue to surprise both researchers and consumers. Increasingly, even the most basic mobiles incorporate a variety of smart phone features, such as access to the mobile Internet; smart phones are the fastest growing segment of mobiles globally. According to a report from mobile manufacturer Ericsson, studies show that by 2012 80% of people accessing the Internet will be doing so from a mobile device. At the 2011 Mobile World Congress, Google CEO Eric Schmidt reaffirmed the prediction by revealing that for every baby born, 30 Android phones are activated. It is no arbitrary decision that the statistical point of comparison is between new lives and mobiles; the next generation of students will inevitably be armed with smarter mobiles at younger ages.

Gartner Research estimates that 85 percent of new handsets sold in 2011 will be able to access the mobile Web. Comscore estimates that today in US and Western Europe, 90 percent of mobile subscribers already have an Internet-ready phone. Perhaps even more important for education is that Gartner projects Internet-capable mobile devices will outnumber PCs by 2013. In Japan, over 75% of Internet users already use a mobile as their first choice for access. This shift in the means of connecting to the Internet is being enabled by the convergence of three trends: the growing number of Internet-capable mobile devices, increasingly flexible web content, and continued development of the networks that support connectivity. Mobiles are increasingly always “always-connected” devices — and not just to text messages and phone conversations, but also doorways to the content and social tapestries of the Internet, as well as hundreds of thousands of easy-to-buy apps. The devices available today are extremely multi-functional and robust, and grow more so with each passing year.


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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • - nik.honeysett nik.honeysett Aug 25, 2011 Hard not to see that this is one of the most impactful technologies. - ed.rodley ed.rodley Aug 30, 2011 +1 - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011
  • Hard, indeed! And I'd like to make here a general comment (I haven't found a better place;): Thinking about the technologies and trends to watch for museums in 2011, many result to have already been included in the 2010 report. Mobile and Social media are still strong trends in museums. Also very relevant and increasing is Augmented Reality and other that were mentioned then. That poses a problem: we can not repeat almost the same as the previous year but we can not avoid to mention those currently on the wave and still growing. So, to me, the stress could be made to explore the current and future use of these technologies, that are not “new” technologies nor new trends really, but continue to be extremely relevant and museums will continue to use them while exploring new ways of taking out the most of them. - conxa.roda conxa.roda Aug 26, 2011
  • Personally, I think this is THE question for the museum field at the moment -- i.e. the larger question of small-screen, networked devices and how museums can best implement them. I also think there are several layers to this question, including utility/usability/size issues (how can we provide appealing and useful visual content on smartphone screens, how can we create navigation systems that are not tiny and frustrating without adequate screen real estate); the challenge of designing content for multiple formats simultaneously; the recurring problem of bandwidth that we thought we put behind when broadband went mainstream, but which has definitely come back with smartphones; and how should we approach the question of deep and rich content in a medium that feels, frankly, about shallow and easy-to-access written information, or (bandwidth permitting) small screen video and audio programs? I will make a possibly spurious but well-intentioned distinction between notions of "information" -- some fact, or set of facts, or whatever, that answers a potential question -- and a complementary domain of less instrumental content that fills in museum users' experience more broadly by providing histories, contexts, and more. Many of us have come to believe that websites, accessed either in education areas in museums or at home, are a comfortable home to that kind of deep content, which is often not linear, is not quickly consumable, and may appear to be somewhat tangential to immediate visitor questions such as, "Well, what does this object mean, anyway?" or "What the heck is 'non-objective painting'?" or, "Do marsupials hibernate? I thought they did?!" It is clear smartphones are good for providing facts, definitions, and all sorts of game apps, but -- happy iPhone user that I am -- it has not been my experience that smartphones are good for delving at length into anything like a content-rich museum web feature, or that people even want to use their phones in that way. iPad screens are in fact fine for this kind of content deployment, but so far I really am not seeing people wandering around museums holding their iPads and using them; since I see iPads everywhere else, this leads me to conclude that in museums people don't want to be hauling these larger devices out. I suppose this might change, but based on the form factor, I think phones are far more likely to remain the desired in-gallery information utensil. Now I will finally come to the question: how can we create more effective ways to use the small screen experience to bring our visitors and members into a more meaningful big screen relationship with us? Maybe smartphone encounters are a bit like speed dating (which I admit to never having done!), but we would like to be graduating from speed dating to eventually "going steady" with our visitors, having them come over to the website, sitting down, and spending some quality time with us. I do think we MUST create strong programs for smartphones and tablets, and I think video and audio applications, and perhaps games and call-and-response interactive activities, too, are viable and attractive development strategies that go behind providing handy facts. But I still think that there will be a limit to what we can do on small screens; it is a physical limit and it will not go away.- john.weber john.weber Aug 26, 2011 - beth.harris beth.harris Aug 31, 2011
  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011Good points made so far. I think that the nature of the "mobile" will continue to evolve toward more portability (regardless of how portable smart phones and tablets appear to us today!) and greater transparency. By this I mean that the museum visitor of the near future will wear or have implanted some of the technology we currently carry around in our pockets or purses, press up against the sides of our heads during some usage, or access with actual or virtual keyboards and mice. The computing devices of the near future will create a cyber-environment around the visitor upon which the available services and information streams will impinge and be accessed according to the wishes of the user.
  • I think the way museums adopt mobile devices and integrate them with their core content strategies over the next 5 years will dramatically impact the access and learning that can happen both onsite and online. The ability for mobile devices to facilitate unique simultaneous visit experiences in the physical gallery adds a powerful layer to the interpretive technology content that museums have already developed. Exploiting mobile technology effectively will require museums to take a comprehensive approach to information management that can deploy their content to a variety of devices from pc's to tablets to mobile phones. - rob.stein rob.stein Aug 29, 2011 Hear, hear. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 30, 2011 +1 - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011 - allegra.burnette allegra.burnette Aug 31, 2011 Offsite experiences as well as onsite. Mobile and our mobile content strategies are key in drawing people to the museum and interacting with them beyond the museum, as well as during or extending an onsite visit.
  • - sheila.carey sheila.carey Aug 30, 2011 I agree with the above. Mobile devices are key to many of the technologies elsewhere on the list. I think a lot of museums have started with audio (and video) guides, because that is what is 'comfortable' and it is something done before being ported onto a new device. I can see more experimentation with other technologies increasing in the next few years, as increasing numbers of visitors will have smartphones. This is interesting information about usage of phones (Androids at least), showing that the average Android user in the U.S. spends 2/3 of their time on apps, and that a very small percentage of apps available are the ones being used http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/?p=28628
  • This clearly is on the near-term horizon but will continue to be a very important and underlying matter in technology for museums. The more robust that mobile devices become, the more important they will be.- rkvaron rkvaron Aug 30, 2011
  • - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011 To second David.Dean, but personalization and the individual seem important parts of mobile technology. These are devices visitors bring in, and that they will take out. They expect services that are tailored to them. The services in some ways have to take the bulk of the museum and differentiate them on a granular level.
  • Ditto - dana.allen-greil dana.allen-greil Aug 31, 2011
  • Visitors want to use mobile to access information at all stages of experience: prior (checking mobile website for hours, exhibitions, etc.) during (Foursquare, mobile guides, Twitter/Facebook updates, QR codes) and following (Yelp, blogging, etc.) These devices are truly an extension of personality, and are crucial to the enjoyment of museums for many visitors. Not having at least a basic mobile presence could be negatively interpreted by potential visitors, adding to the "stodgy" or "outdated" reputation some museums have.- adrianne.russell adrianne.russell Aug 31, 2011

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • - nik.honeysett nik.honeysett Aug 25, 2011 Again, I'll lower the tone and bring in the ability to make payments using a smart phone, Starbucks, parking meters, to name two that I've seen in the last week. - ed.rodley ed.rodley Aug 30, 2011
  • Supplementary to topic of payment: Three of four major US mobile carriers reportedly to launch joint-venture payment (and coupon...) system "Isis" (http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-08-29/at-t-verizon-t-mobile-sets-100-million-for-google-fight-tech.html) in mid-2012; see also Google Wallet (http://www.google.com/wallet/). - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 29, 2011
  • The overlap between mobile devices and tablets. What makes something a mobile? Tablet OS's feature many of the same features and power / display trade-offs make for interesting sets of applications that museums are considering - rob.stein rob.stein Aug 29, 2011
  • A discussion about apps and the differences between native and web applications for mobile devices.- rkvaron rkvaron Aug 30, 2011 - ed.rodley ed.rodley Aug 30, 2011 Yes, this is important. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 31, 2011
  • The still-vast gulf between the smartphones museums develop apps for and the dumb phones most of the world uses. The mobile universe is far bigger than "Android vs. iOS" - ed.rodley ed.rodley Aug 30, 2011 Agree. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 31, 2011
  • Perhaps some discussion on the difference between closed and open systems, especially in regards to smartphones. It seems that museums in general, and the New York museums in particular, are focusing on creating content for iPhones/iPads. This content isn't accessible to non-Apple users (generally) and I believe needs to be "approved" by Apple before being offered in the App store. It suggests that the apps will have a limited audience and a limited shelf-life. So, not very practical for mid- to small-size museums. - jason.trimmer jason.trimmer Aug 31, 2011
  • I think you've got to address how mobiles are used for all kinds of social purposes in addition to looking up information. How can museums work that into their engagement strategies? How can it help/hurt museums with their outreach and marketing? Also, the difference between people using mobiles IN a museum and using mobiles to interact with a museum ELSEWHERE seem fairly significant and could be tackled separately. - dana.allen-greil dana.allen-greil Aug 31, 2011
  • We need to undertstand how mobile fits in with our business. Musuems operate across three spheres now - how can we make the most of all and integrate them?: http://australianmuseum.net.au/BlogPost/Audience-Research-Blog/The-world-of-museums
  • Related to Ed's comment above, I think it's worth mentioning the demographic implications of smartphone development. In fact, it may be a question of "iOS vs. Android" if a museum determines that those are the users it wishes to reach. Museums that don't hand out devices to every single user who walks in the door have effectively made a decision to target a slice of their visitor profile; that's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it's an aspect of mobile development I haven't seen discussed too often in museums to this point.
  • Agree with the above. The issue of access definitely has to be considered. Why spend time and money developing something that only a tiny fraction of visitors can use?- adrianne.russell adrianne.russell Aug 31, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • I have recently taken a crash course on how people input Chinese characters on a mobile phone. There are several methods but one of the most promising is how some mobile phones allow the user to make strokes on the display screen with a stylus. As more strokes are added Chinese characters will appear on the side navigation bar that match the user’s marks. When the desired character pops up, the user can choose it. This type of recognition could have numerous applications in the museum environment where visitors can use hand drawn annotations that could then be converted into a digital form. Plant identification at a Botanical Garden for example. (If someone could correctly replicate the shapes) - robert.trio robert.trio Aug 16, 2011

  • - nik.honeysett nik.honeysett Aug 25, 2011 Can't really talk about mobiles without bringing in (most) other technologies on the Horizon docket. Mobiles are an enabler for education and interpretation: Game-based learning, e-books, AR, social networking, pick one. I'd actually argue that its erroneous to label Mobiles as a "technology to watch", its an underlying trend. - ed.rodley ed.rodley Aug 30, 2011
  • Yes, agree with Nik here. That transversality happens with other "technologies" as well, like Social media, for example. - conxa.roda conxa.roda Aug 26, 2011
  • I agree with both of the above - mobile technologies is far more than 'a technology' to watch/consume/deliver - its probably truer to say that Mobile R us in that its like saying 'was the Internet a technology to watch' 15 years ago. - susan.hazan susan.hazan Aug 27, 2011
  • Strongly agree with Nik, Conxa, and Susan above. Mobile is a kind of underlayment that enables other key technologies and trends. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 29, 2011
  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011The increasingly mobile and transparent nature of mobile devices will mean that museums must provide the required services and information streams expected by their visitors. It is a fairly safe prediction that commercial institutions will be the first to offer such digital fodder for personalized cyber-environments. As this paradigm (the digital devices and ready access to information we can carry around with us) becomes more prevalent in societies, museums will need to make their interpretation, programming, and general information digitally available for "cyber-consumer" use. This will mean a growing cadre of digitally savvy and trained technologists for the museum and heritage fields—those who know how to make such digital materials pertinent and available. Of course, to hire such people and to engage in such initiatives demands funding, along with the support of administrators and boards of cultural institutions.
  • Although we have been talking about mobiles for a long time, the educators still need help making this technology work for them. Visitors bring these powerful devices into the museum and we need to see more examples of ways to use them on tours, as feedback tools, and with social media to scaffold and imporve learning in the museum.- rkvaron rkvaron Aug 30, 2011
  • - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011 Yes, I think rkvaron is exactly right. The new part of this is not necessary technology but how we employ it. For education, in this year, I have seen docents and gallery educators finally seeing mobile technologies as essential/ expected parts of their work. Rather than say "if" they use it, they are finally focused on "how" they use it.
  • I agree with both rkvaron and seema.rao above. Using these technologies for education and interpretation over the next five years, say, will become a core part of a museum educators job. But, as ed.rodley notes above, there is a vast gap between smart phones and the dumb phones most people (myself included) still use. Knowing your different constituencies will help determine how far a museum delves into creating smartphone specific applications. - jason.trimmer jason.trimmer Aug 31, 2011
  • Data is showing that this is an increasing trend and we need to upgrade our tech if we havent already ;-)
  • I recently visited the Children's Museum of Houston and saw volunteers assisting visitors using iPads, which was great. They were able to orient visitors, answer questions, and help them engage with the museum. While this may not be considered a formal education experience, if visitors are confused or frustrated by the space or unsure where to begin their visit, the educational/interpretive content is irrelevant. - adrianne.russell adrianne.russell Aug 31, 2011

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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