The $2.75 million Museum app powered by 800 beacons

The American Museum of National History's new app 'Explorer' brings new life to exhibits with turn-by-turn directions powered by 800 beacons and interactive content such as quizzes and augmented reality experiences.

At first glance, it's clear that 'My List' and 'Map' are the heart of the app. Based on what users select ("Highlights" are added by default), 'My List' is changed to reflect users' specified interests.

The app's structure is simple and designed for an almost linear journey where discovery goes hand-in-hand with location, hiding everything else (such as tickets and likes) in the side menu.

AMNH have tackled the challenges of indoor positioning with 800 beacons scattered throughout the museum across several floors to improve the accuracy of turn-by-turn directions. When users are in proximity to a beacon, the app displays a "Take me there" button for turn-by-turn directions. The app similarly detects nearby beacons to show visitors the location of the nearest restroom or cafe.

Without WiFi and/or beacon technology, indoor wayfinding would be a challenge impossible to solve with GPS alone, especially across different floors in a Museum.

A deeper look into features

It's clear that a lot of work went into building this app from scratch. The museum's branding is strong and images and information have been carefully curated and adapted to fit the context of the app.

We take a closer look at the features that tie the content together and enhance the museum experience.

"Also in this hall"

The app encourages discovery and exploration based on location (rather than related content). An important part of accommodating for the visitor journey is allowing for unstructured exploration, which the AMNH handles in an intuitive and visual way.

Multimedia cards

Content is presented in card-like modules that can hold audio, images or videos. These 'cards' are consistently used to present information in a clean, digestible way that adds to the experience and prompts taking a closer took, not distract from the physical exhibits.

Games and quizzes

Also presented in cards are quizzes and 'Tree of life' questions where app users can grow their tree by answering evolution questions correctly. It's an fun, engaging way of interacting with the exhibit — utilising the power of digital solutions to complement the museum journey.

So $2 million is what I need for an beacon-powered app?

Building an app from scratch will always cost more than white-label solutions but it is certainly not common to be in the ballpark of $2 million or 800 beacons.

Many of these features, like quizzes, audio, images and videos, are supported by most platforms, including Beaconmaker. Most of our customers use on average 20-30 beacons scattered throughout the museum for proximity-triggered push notifications and localised content. Also, with white-label solutions, a significant portion of the cost is cut with the use of a CMS that allows content to be changed instantly without a developer or app update.

While their budget and project is out of reach for many museums around the world, the American Museum of National History is raising the bar for museum apps and is paving the way for beacon-powered apps in the museum world.

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