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Like the beacons, they will revolutionize museums and cultural spaces

The Palazzo Farnese Civic Museums in Piacenza are one of the top 5 museums in Europe to use iBeacon technology to revolutionize the visitor experience

IMAPP

Piacenza – The theme of microgeolocation has always been a crucial node when it comes to apps or services for public spaces and events. The GPS – the answer to all localization problems – failed to give the right answer and lost its turn. The infamous QR code, which allows smartphone owners to download an app after scanning a chess code and launching contextual content, not as immediate as an approach. While the NFC tags, which have been successful especially in the retail world, have gained little attention outside this sector. The fact that, in a wireless world, scanning or touching something to transmit or obtain information is very inconvenient.

Then, iOS 7 was released. From the July 2013 announcement, we talk a lot about iBeacon in Italy, but very few apps are released at the moment. Among these an app dedicated to visiting spaces indoor – museums, fairs, events – presented last Tuesday by Ultraviolet, Piacenza start-up founded by Marco Boeri and specialized in the development of apps for Apple and Android, together with the Civic Museums of Palazzo Farnese of Piacenza that have officially adopted IMAPP as an official app and as an interactive multimedia guide.

IMAPP

IMApp is actually a sort of platform, a technology capable of integrating with every app for Apple iOS and Android, which allows an interactive, personalized and non-circumscribed duration of the guided tour experience. It can be adopted by different types of organizations and configured according to needs. IMApp puts the visitor at the center of the museum (fair, shopping center, etc.) and accompanies him in his movements by providing detailed information (text descriptions, audio, video and multimedia contents in general) and personalized; being the system able to recognize the registered and profiled user, it can also send content or promotions declined according to his preferences.

The Palazzo Farnese Civic Museums in Piacenza are the first Italian museum to have an app neglio store, and one of the top 5 in Europe, which uses iBeacon technology, the small Bluetooth emitters with a range of action ranging from a few centimeters to 70 meters. Every time a smartphone or tablet enters this range, notifications are sent and actions unleashed, customizable for each user, on the device.

From the point of view of the museum manager, and of any fair venue, shopping center, indoor event – which chooses to adopt this technology, the main advantage lies in not having to incur management and maintenance costs hardware of traditional audio guides. Thanks to the particular architecture of IMApp, in fact, the contents combined with each beacon can be updated and modified very simply and in real time, making this choice extremely agile and versatile.

The use of a guide the best way to enjoy the experience in a museum from anywhere in the world, takes visitors around the museum, involving them and bringing the works of art closer to students, art lovers and all those who initially show little interest. The use of apps that combine audio guide and functionality related to proximity are a great potential for museums, tourism, culture and art, even if they are still in their infancy. The city of Piacenza sponsored the IMApp project, seeing new ways to involve the public with guided tours of the city, informing them of the points of interest, historical places especially in view of the Expo 2015.

Road test

Arrived at the entrance of the museum it was easy install the app thanks to the gigantic QR code on the positioned near the entrance door. I didn't have earphones with me – fortunately the museum thought of that – essential to use the app as an audio guide. Second fundamental step to activate the bluetooth: and as for magic on the display appears the introductory card of the museum. Continuing inside the rooms you can fully enjoy the potential of the iBeacon technology: by approaching each painting, the card dedicated to him appeared on the screen without having to interact manually with the phone.

IMAPP

In the rooms that contained many works it was possible to see how this technology and the related projects are still in their embryonic stage and need lots of tests: for the installation of the beacons, in fact, the planimetry and morphology of the place must be evaluated because the beams can overlap and create conflicts. When it is more or less equidistant from two neighboring works, the app does not always suggest the right sheet of the work we are observing, above all because, given the presence of other visitors, it is not always possible to position oneself perfectly in front of or near the work that you want to look at. Or in the case of large paintings: they are observed at full distance, perhaps when they are closer to the work behind them.

Useful the possibility of create a personal journey that leads us to visit only the previously selected works, or to quickly find the bathroom, something that sometimes happens to get lost inside a museum. There are still some small features that could be added to favor every kind of visitor: text zoom, language choice and map orientation.

IMAPP

And so the visit ends and thanks to the app it is enriched with a lot of useful information that has allowed us to feel involved, to live the works and to know something more about the author. Too bad to discover that multimedia content plus BLE plus display got sucked in three-quarters of the battery, you can see from the screenshots. It is no coincidence that some museums such as the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden, Holland, before choosing whether to download the guide app on the visitor device or provide a tablet with the pre-installed app they did a survey: the majority of those interviewed were not willing to see their device autonomy halved. Not a little detail that every organization that chooses the first type of solution should bear in mind, providing itself with columns to recharge the battery or similar solutions.

For museums, galleries and public spaces this technology certainly remains a great step forward along with the spread of the smartphone. the missing link that will change the way mobile devices are used in public spaces, and to legitimize their presence, rather than being perceived as a distraction from them.

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