So the Picasso exhibition is over and we learned a lot about mass iPod audio tours. The first lesson, they’re very popular! We’ve had iPods for our permanent collection for a while now, but we never really had the push behind it like we had for Picasso. The difference I noticed here is that if you advertise it, people will use it.
We did a lot better job for the Picasso show in getting the word out that the iPods as well as Art on Call were available. People used them. There were very often waiting lists for people to check out an iPod. I had honestly thought at the beginning that 25 iPods was overkill, but after a short time it was obvious we could have probably had twice that and still had all of them in use at any given time. A lot of this was because of the show itself. A ton of people came to see Picasso. I’ve never seen that many people in our galleries before, outside of After Hours. And this was day in, day out. But like anything, word gets out, people in the galleries see others on their cell phones or with iPods and learn they can do the same (for free) and people really ate up the content. We will post more on our numbers when the final data comes in.
So that’s great, people dug the content, but what were the caveats? For us there were several things that came up that we had to work around. One is what I already mentioned, the iPods being checked out constantly. Because of this, none of the iPods during the day got a chance to recharge. Most made it through an 8 hour day fine, but what we didn’t expect was having to charge them over night. Because they needed to be locked up somewhere safe when the building was closed we had to find a secure place to take the charging station each night, and thankfully we were able to.
Also, at first we were going to use one of the computers at the front desk to dock the iPods on, but given the traffic, that didn’t go over well as that computer needed to be used off and on all day for ticketing, etc. But we still needed a dedicated computer there just for the iPods. We thankfully had a spare Sony laptop that sufficed for this and did a good job.
There was also something that came up that I never had even thought about. I originally put the iPods down in a floor cabinet which could be closed. This was partially to be neat and tidy and partially for security. Problem was, we were so busy and swapping out so many iPods that the Visitor Services staff started to really strain having to bend over again and again to swap out iPods all day. Thankfully our carpentry shop rectified this by making a pedestal that the iPods could go in to make it easier on everyone’s backs.
And what about dead and abused iPods? Several notes here. One, Notes mode works better now than it did when I first used it and dismissed it and then instead hacked the iPod firmware. But there are still major issues with Notes mode. While better, it’s still not ready for prime time and there are still ways for users to change settings even when locked into Notes mode (which I’m still trying to figure out, but given the number of iPods I got that I had to reset, it’s certainly an issue). That said, we will probably use Notes mode for exhibition-only tours in the future.
Secondly, when your audio tour is this popular bad things happen. We had a few iPods die on us. Three were hard drive failures, and one had a screen fail from abuse. The good news is Apple will replace iPods for free if there is a hard drive failure and the iPod is under warranty. The bad news is the same can’t be said for screen abuse (or any other kind of user created problem). Most of the iPods survived just fine, some had to be reset with a hard reset (getting into the hidden firmware setting to do so), but in the end most survived the ordeal.
The other big challenge was getting people to understand how to use the iPods. Believe it or not there are a lot of people who have never used one before. The Picasso show skewed a bit older as well which added to this. We had a stop on our tour (the first stop) that was all about how to use the iPod and the tour menu itself was as simple as possible (just one list, no submenus), but as with any technology there is still a learning curve involved, regardless of how simple it may seem. Someone will always struggle. It’s important everyone in your museum knows how they work, because anyone, even security guards, may be asked to help someone who’s stuck. This is the most important part to me, because if people can’t figure out how to use your device, there’s no point in having it!
Lastly, as Robin guessed before the show started, ditch the earbuds and get over-the-ear headphones for your iPods. This was a very good move. Nobody wants to stick earbuds in their ears after 20 people before you have!
In related iPod news, we’re getting a few of the new iPod Touch’s in at the end of the month, and I’m currently building an app for it. I think these could have a real impact on audio (and video) tours because of the built in WiFi and browser. I’m pretty excited at the possibilities. More on this soon.