To help the specification and context of the Royal Opera House mobile project we carried out a detailed survey of current engagement with mobile technologies by organisations within the arts and cultural heritage sectors, supplemented with an overview survey of mobile tools in use for complementary activities, namely in the areas of food and drink and other entertainment options. Additionally it included a brief survey of mobile interaction analogues in the area of mobile ticketing and mobile donation, and a brief survey of offerings in the area of electronic programmes and offline content.
What we found was that of all the arts and cultural institutions surveyed, including a selection of theatres and commercial music venues, only one quarter currently offer a mobile website. Arts institutions, i.e. those specialising in classical music, opera and ballet and cultural heritage organisations, i.e. libraries, museums and galleries demonstrate a tendency to use mobile websites to present location, events and contact information rather than using them as platforms for encouraging deeper engagement with their performances or collections. These websites are delivered in a number of forms, most commonly via a dedicated mobile-specific URL, device detection or responsive web design.
However, some institutions are demonstrating a different approach to the mobile web, employing it to deliver a more focused “app-like” user experience: one that is similar to that delivered by a native smartphone or tablet application. These types of experiences resemble native applications in terms of their interaction design, including the use of gestures such as pin-zoom and swiping, and their more streamlined goal-focused functionality. Two notable examples of this are the Rijkmuseum’s (Amsterdam) “tablet-first” website and the mobile website of the Baltimore Arts Museum (US).
Where institutions demonstrate a coherent digital strategy, as do for example the Tate and the V&A, this has tended to focus on the delivery of native smartphone applications, the majority of which have been designed only to run on Apple’s iOS platform (i.e. iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads). Most of these apps are exhibition tie-ins, guides to the permanent collections or games. Many, but not all, of these apps take advantage of the more advanced functionality and greater usability offered by the native application environment. Some of the apps surveyed dated back to 2009 at which time the mobile web user experience was more limited than it is presently.
A very small number of the surveyed institutions offered mobile ticketing functionality. Two notable examples in the United Kingdom that do are the ICA website and that of the Natural History Museum and further afield the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Sydney.
Outside of the area of the arts and cultural heritage the most fully mobile-optimised event booking experiences are those provided by event-focused e-commerce and travel companies, although the most advanced solutions are delivered in the form of native apps rather than being available via mobile websites.
Whilst some arts and cultural heritage institutions have an online donation facility, only a small minority of mobile websites facilitate mobile giving. One example of an institution that does support this is the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), although the call to action to do so is somewhat buried within its “support” page.
Solutions beyond the sector again offer some analogues, notably the JustGiving mobile website. Some institutions have even taken advantage of the visibility of the website and its dedicated functionality and are listed as charitable causes to which users can donate. An in-app donation solution is offered by the Give On The Mobile service that generates SMS messages rather than taking card payments.
While this exercise required significant dedicated time upfront, the insights should be of great value to the project through its development.
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