Museums and technology are not two terms that have historically gone hand in hand. However, as the world moves into the ‘digital age’, a number of museums and galleries have started to embrace technology and all its advances, using it to reach out to a whole new generation like never before.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is one of those institutions. The London museum has recently launched the Tipu’s iTiger app, an interactive guide for the Apple iPhone of one of their most famous exhibits.
Tipu’s Tiger is a life-sized music box from the late 1700s, depicting a tiger savaging a European soldier. The semi-automaton, operated by a crank handle, moves and “growls” as air is pumped through its pipes to create sound.
Tipu’s Tiger was made for Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in South India in the 1790s. The tiger is thought to represent the death of the only son of General Sir Hector Munro, who defeated Tipu in battle during the second Mysore War. Hugo Munro was savaged by a tiger whilst out shooting near Calcutta in 1792.
Today, the Tipu’s Tiger can be experienced like never before with the iTiger iPhone app. Users can play the Tiger’s unique keyboard on the app; in real life, the Tiger’s keyboard can only rarely be played by specialists. The app also has a three-dimensional representation of the object which allows the user to view the Tiger from a number of different angles and proximities, allowing greater access to the object than would be granted in the museum itself.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is not the only museum to embrace the iPhone phenomenon in this way. The Musee du Louvre in Paris has recently launched its own iPhone application, offering a virtual experience of the world’s largest museum. Users can view some of the Louvre’s most famous items, such as the Mona Lisa and St. Mary Magdalene, and take a virtual tour of the museum’s historic buildings. As well as virtual guides, the app also offers tourist information about the museum, such as opening times and visitor maps.
Back in Britain, the Royal Academy of Arts launched its own iPhone app this summer, specifically dedicated to the Academy’s Summer Exhibition. The Summer Exhibition has been running for well over 200 years, and displays a wide range of work by both established and unknown artists in all forms of art, including painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture and architecture.
The accompanying iPhone app offers audio introductions for each of the exhibition’s 14 galleries, and visual guides to over 180 featured artworks. The app also doubles as a personal guide to the gallery itself; users can enter the number displayed next to each exhibit into the app to look up more information on that exhibit. In order to attract more downloads, the Royal Academy reduced the price of the app by 60 per cent during the closing weeks of the exhibition.
The Apple iPhone is one of the most popular “smartphones” on the market, selling over 33 million units worldwide so far. When the phone launched on Orange in Britain this month, the mobile phone network sold 30,000 units within 24 hours, setting a new record for British first-day phone sales.
There are over 85,000 different applications, or “apps”, for the iPhone, which can be downloaded from Apple’s own App Store within iTunes. With so many apps on the market, it is possible to find an app for just about anything; video games, street maps, checking the stock market, and checking train timetables. In September Apple announced that the two billionth app had been downloaded from its iTunes store, and that figure is only set to rise as more and more apps become available.
There is clearly a market for museums to aim at in the mobile technology sector; the Louvre app is currently number two in the free download chart in the Education section of the iTunes App Store. If this recent batch of iPhone apps from museums and galleries proves to be a success, then we may see more and more museums follow suit, as the historical museum industry moves into the “digital age”.
About The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum (vandashop.com) is the world’s leading museum of art and design. Founded in 1852 the V&A is home to more than five million amazing artefacts and its collections are unrivalled in their scope and diversity. Influential art movements and unique cultures can be explored in virtually every medium including world class collections of glass, textiles, graphics, photography, jewellery and fashion.
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