Museum apps

How do mobile apps for some of NYC's cultural institutions enhance your experience? We tested three to find out.

Brooklyn Museum Mobile, iPhone/iPod Touch;


The gist: The app launched last year, and functions as both a mobile information desk—with details about admission as well as an event calendar—and a source of info about exhibits and items from the museum's collection.
Special feature: Get an in-depth look at Judy Chicago's massive installation The Dinner Party: In the BklynMuse section of the app, you can look at each of the 39 themed place settings that are in the piece, along with short biographies of each woman characterized. You'll even find information about the historic figures featured on the work's "heritage floor," which is inscribed with the names of 999 other notable women.
The verdict: As a companion to your museum-going experience, the app is a success; users can "like" and comment on different pieces in the museum, as well as find work that has been recommended by other museumgoers. But for rotating exhibits, it leaves a bit to be desired: The only current exhibit that features interactive extras is "Seductive Subversion," about female pop artists, and the text comes from Wikipedia. Additionally, some of the collection simply can't be found in the app (we searched for at least three items that the app couldn't find), and the descriptions are often limited to what's already on plaques near the artwork. But it's a handy tool, and provides enough extra information that it's worth checking out.—Amy Plitt

MoMA App, iPhone/iPod Touch;


(an Android app will be available by the end of the year)
The gist: Users can browse images and info about exhibitions, artwork and artists in the collection. There are also audio tours of specific parts of the collection, and a few playful extras of varying quality and usefulness.
Special feature: The events calendar (which is updated daily) is the most useful tool, but the most fun thing is MoMA Snaps: Take a picture of yourself giving a thumbs-up to a Pollock painting, and it gets automatically crowned with the museum logo, creating an instant personalized postcard.
The verdict: While the app has value as a navigational tool, it doesn't necessarily live up to the creative promise one would expect from a top art museum. For example, the app-only feature MoMA Tracks asks you to cull an art-viewing soundtrack from whatever's on your iPod, but it's easier and more user-friendly to simply switch over to your own device. Why not use this feature to let curators put together soundtracks inspired by the works on view? That's just one way that the app could expand on the experience of being at MoMA, instead of simply replicating it. The museum's new iPad app for the blockbuster "Abstract Expressionist New York" exhibit treads that new ground through curator interviews, behind-the-scenes videos and a cool map of important AbEx artist studios around the city. Here's hoping that the basic app will soon follow that example.—Billie Cohen

American Museum of Natural History Explorer, iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad;


The gist: To help visitors navigate this treasure trove, the AMNH has created an easy-to-use app with bonus information about several star attractions, specific tours to guide your visit, and a locator that'll lead you to exhibits, cafs and restrooms.
Special feature: Presently there are five tours, from the specific (Dino) to the eclectic (Night at the Museum, based on the films). After hitting each stop and reading the two factoids provided, you'll be directed to the next checkpoint with clear maps and step-by-step directions. And iPhone users needn't worry: The museum's free Wi-Fi has good connectivity. Come with a freshly charged device, as this reviewer was unable to load the app without going online, which can sap battery power quickly.
The verdict: The tours help users narrow the focus of their visit and the facts included offer more information than can be found on the nearby plaques—particularly about conservation. However, some halls have no special exhibits highlighted, which can force visitors to learn about artifacts the old-fashioned way. Though a tour of the "Brain: The Inside Story" exhibit was added recently, an AMNH rep wasn't explicit about how the app will be updated in the future. We hope blurbs are soon provided for each item on display. Still, this free app provides a new way to enjoy an old favorite.—Heather Young

Explore 9/11, iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad;


The gist: Created by the National September 11 Memorial Museum, this app offers a preview of what you'll see once the museum opens in 2012.
Special feature: A guided walking tour designed by the museum offers a thorough examination of the events of that day. The tour begins at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, which houses plans for the museum and the new WTC location, and makes seven stops. Each destination is plotted out, with route information, on a Google map, and is devoted to a specific topic (collapse, rescue, etc.). Photographs and narration—from first responders, volunteers and more—tell the story.
The verdict: The walking tour is really the best thing here: The other features are limited to a timeline of 9/11-related events, and an Explore function that shows photos submitted on the Make History portion of the museum's website. (The app does provide a disclaimer for folks who may not want to see graphic images.) But these features can be found elsewhere, and don't particularly augment the experience. Download it for the walking tour, but look elsewhere (the museum's website is a good start) for a more thorough examination of 9/11.—AP

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