To Android or Not to Android?

To Android or Not to Android? Should this really be the question? And yet it seems so!

As an ever-present Android user, I feel like a third world citizen in the market for museum-related applications; a sense reinforced by the fact that nearly 6 times as many apps exist for iOS devices – iPhone and iPad – as do for Android devices.

Many have said this is down to museum professionals, and their exposure to the iOS devices, as well as ease and simplicity surrounding development, deployment and monetisation on the Apple App Store compared to the Android Marketplace, but when the figures stack up in favour of Android, in terms of market share, some 50% as of mid-2011, aren’t museums simply spiting their nose?

Of course I shouldn’t tar all institutions with the same brush. Some have developed for a cross-platform world, the British Museum, Museum of London among them. Whilst others, the IMA, Walker Arts, Brooklyn Museum, to name but 3, have gone an opposing, but possibly more sensible route, and developed with existing and infinitely more accessible & cheaper web technologies.

Thus, it isn’t like the decision-makers hands are tied. Moreover, the discussion around #mtogo still rages on and is being developed within the museum community. But in the here-and-now, and as a third-party bystander, it would still seem that the effective choice is simply defined by the availability and quality of resources, the implied cost and a function of the advice forthcoming.

While the desktop PC has opened up so many creative opportunities across many industries, bringing power to the people, it seems as if some sectors remain closeted. In fact, in a day and age where it is even possible to cook-up & sell your own tour guides online, it seems
incongruous on the part of institutions to have a slanted distribution of apps to their expectant audience.

Perhaps institutions should be forgiven on the basis that the plethora of available options is so bewildering, and of course they can only act on the best available advice, and such advice may well fall short, but still, given the wider remit of institutions to provide complete access to all, it would seem odd. What kind of message does this lack of access send out? And who cares anyhow, It’s just an app right? If all the web traffic to a museum’s site is via iOS, should they still be beholden to the Android market share? All questions that swirl around this topic.

No doubt it sounds like I am throwing my handheld devices out of the pram, like a spoiled little child, but I think the argument still stands: that institutions need to think about, not just Android, but wider universal technological access as a whole. In fact, when was the last time you searched a museum website for the word “Android” and it actually returned results?

Vincent Roman is a freelance developer-designer based in Shoreditch, East London, helping businesses and institutions improve their tech offerings with 10+ years experience in the field of digital technologies. Needless to say he has an acute interest in the field of museum-tech and questions surrounding interlocution between the digital and physical worlds.

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