Apps and Info-Point

Apps and Info-Point
April 2016
Photo of app user

Web-based apps are more accessible for visitors. They are more future-proof as technology changes. They are also easier and cheaper to make and maintain.

Why Info-Point apps for heritage?

While apps are a popular part of our mobile digital world, recognising when you need an app, and what type of app to develop, is crucial. This technology is fast moving and can quickly become obsolete. While apps are cool, the technology used should never be allowed to dominate the interpretation. In addition, apps can create accessibility issues.

Apps are only really necessary when you require interactivity. Otherwise, what you really have is an information tool that could be just as easily made for mobile digital as web pages or downloadable documents, using an Info-Point unit as the delivery platform.

The Info-Point platform supports any type of app. We don't make apps, so we are free from any commercial or proprietorial bias. Many of our Partners are capable of various kinds of app development, and we support whatever you or they want to do.

For heritage and visitor applications we do though recommend web apps or the new web-based hybrid apps in preference to native apps. The reason is that web-based apps can be universally accessible, whereas native apps are restricted to specific makes and model of device. On many devices, most notably Apple iPhones, native apps can only be downloaded from the official store, which requires good internet access.

Another factor is cost. Organisations that have their funding strictly divided between capital and revenue may find themselves without the long-term revenue budget to maintain and update a native app to always work on the latest devices.

The experience of pioneering venues and professional interpreters seems to be that native apps have low usage. This may be because successful apps are user-centred, rather than provider-centred, and most users are reluctant to install something for one visit.

App rescue

It is possibvle to emulate an existing app of any type on an Info-Point - either using web/hybrid app technology, or often just the built-in content management system. This can be a way of rescuing content that has not proven popular as a native app.

Many of our Partners have the skills to do this adaptation from existing content. If you have access to your own developers then we can provide them with any necessary technical support.

If you need a native app - for example you are a national membership-based organisation - then Info-Point can provide a local data source for rich interpretive media that the app can access when the visitor is on-site at a specific venue. This means that the app itself can be light-weight in terms of size, but give access to media that require big files.

Whatever the app, or the application, an Info-Point unit will always provide robust and reliable delivery, at any location - now or in the future.

Apps plus

As Info-Point is a system, other devices can be connected to it. Collection servers is one example, where you can manage a collection from your normal interface, and the visitor or researcher can access it via an Info-Point 'front end'.

A popular and flexible feature is webcams. These can enable visitors to see what they otherwise could not see - from inside animal nests, to the microscopically small. Being wireless, they can be re-positioned. They can be programmed to make time-lapse or 'action replay' recordings of intermittent or outside visitor hours activity.

Webcams have been successfully used to compensate for lack of ambulatory access to parts of visitor routes by enabling wheelchair users to follow their group's progress in real time and so share in their visit experience.

Info-Point Standard Model

Info-Point in a nutshell

  • Generates your own private internet with 'local web', and Wi-Fi access points
  • Does not require a phone signal or broadband/Wi-Fi internet
  • Can be solar-powered and used outdoors - anywhere
  • Acessible by all makes and models of smartphones and tablets
  • A one-off capital purchase with no on-going costs for owner or user
  • Easily upload and edit content via content management interface
  • Proven technology, future-proofed via web protocol standards
  • 3-year warranty, software updatable
  • Established track-record with the major heritage organisations, as well as small independents
  • A self-contained solution that you can quickly have up and running

What are apps?

Apps - or application software - are programs that interact with the user. They can be simple or complex and can vary in their degree of interactivity. There are now three fundamental types of app technology, each with their advantages and drawbacks. Let's look at them in turn.

Native Apps

When most of us refer to a mobile 'app' we mean a native app that we download and install to our smartphone. The advantage of native apps is that they are always available (provided they don't require additional information from the Internet in order to work), and they are fast, as the processing is done internally on your device without the need for external communication.

In the context of a heritage venue, there are two fundamental drawbacks of native apps. The main one is that that they have to be created for each make (and sometimes model) of device, as they reply on the device's operating system. This is why you typically see 'for iOS (or Apple) and Android'. Any visitor without one of those devices cannot access the app. Although Apple and Android are currently by far the most popular, they have not always been so, and some people quote current sales statistics instead of devices in use statistics. There are many 'legacy' devices that run Windows or Blackberry operating systems, and a lot of Apple/Android devices that may not run current operating systems.

The other disadvantage is that the visitor has to download and install an app before they can use it. Leaving aside any stability or security issues that may make a visitor reluctant to install something on their device, the app will need good internat access in order to be installable. Unless this is available at the venue, then the visitor will have had to install it in advance of visiting. Experience has shown that this is not something that people do. A native app can be made downloadable from an Info-Point, but some devices, notably iPhones, won't easily install apps other then from the official app store.

Rapid obsolescence of an app is also a very real concern in such a fast-moving technology. It is possble that a competely new device or operating system may become popular, or even standard, within a few years. This the cost of an app has to include a realistic cost of updating and extending it to new systems as they appear.

Web Apps

Web apps reside on a server, which is also where most of the processing work is done. This is the case, for example, if you use a map application or do online banking via your browser.

Most Web apps can be accessed via any browser. This means that they have greater accessibility and, since the web follows international protocols and standards, there is less risk of obsolescence as devcie manufacturers change their devices.  The downside of web apps is that they can be slowed by their internet connection and by the responsiveness of the public intetnet. We apps are fine with Info-Point as it provides a fast 'single hop' connection directly to the app server.

Hybrid apps

There is a relatively new type of app which is a cross between native apps and mobile web apps.  This is called a hybrid app because it uses web code but wraps it in a 'container' that enables it to run on the user device like a native app. The advantage is that a single set of code, which is relatively easy to maintian, can run on a web server, and can run as a native app on any of the major platforms, including iOS Android and Windows.

With the right kind of programming, hybrid apps open up the opportunity to get the best of both worlds, and are ideal with info-Point.