As part of the measures we have introduced to make the Royal Pavilion safe for our staff and visitors we have withdrawn the audio guide handsets. But this does not mean that visitors can no longer enjoy the audio guide — we have replaced it with a version that can be used on your mobile phone.
We have had a mobile version of the audio guide for several years, but it has now been rebuilt with the same popular tour. The audio has been edited to remove out of date references, the Kid’s Tour is now included for younger visitors, and the navigation has been improved.
There are two bigger changes which are more of a radical departure from previous versions of the audio guide.
Basic vs Extended Tour
Most visitors to the Royal Pavilion come to explore the history of the building as a royal palace. This can now be followed as a straightforward Basic Tour or a ‘bells and whistles’ Extended Tour.
Why split them? Something I’ve learned in recent years of testing onsite mobile experiences like Gift and One Minute Experience is that visitors will use their phones in very different ways in a museum environment. That’s partly because people have varying degrees of confidence in how they use their phone: some are happy to scan QR codes and use their device in unfamiliar and sophisticated ways; others would prefer to keep their phone for everyday tasks like messaging and taking photos.
So some visitors want a simple, easy to use guide with minimal fuss. Most people coming to the Royal Pavilion fall into this category. If you are spending an hour in the building as part of a day out in Brighton, the Basic Tour is designed for you.
The Extended Tour is for those who want a richer and more detailed experience, and are prepared to spend more time navigating through additional content. Those visitors may be less numerous, but they definitely exist: a couple of years ago I spoke to one visitor who simultaneously followed the royal palace and WWI hospital tours on separate tabs on her browser, just so she could absorb both stories in a single visit.
In a way the audio tour is now a little like a movie on DVD. The carefully edited cinema version is there as the primary offer, but it is accompanied by an extended cut or additional extras for the dedicated fans.
The other major addition can be found in the Extended and WW1 Hospital tours. Many stops now include historic images of some of the rooms in the Royal Pavilion. For the Extended Tour these are taken from Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion, which depict the palace shortly after its completion in 1823.
Delivering detailed images on a small phone screen is always a challenge. The old mobile tour would allow visitors to pinch and zoom a fairly small image, but this would not reveal much detail. For the new audio guide we are using the Universal Viewer that you may have seen on our Close Look Collections website. This streams in a hi-res image about three times the size of those we previously used, so visitors can zoom in on details in the image.
Below is an example of the Nash View of the Great Kitchen.
However, a golden rule of audio guides is that the screen should not distract from the surroundings or the exhibits; it should really enhance an appreciation of the place. So is it really appropriate to include a zoomable image?
My hope is that visitors will use it to compare and contrast the historic view with the restored palace today. The Universal Viewer enables the audio guide user to flip the image to full screen, compare specific decorative details or architectural features, and then quickly flip back to the guide.
If you take the view, as I do, that audio guides should really be considered as a form of augmented reality, then this feature is a technologically light way of visually reinterpreting a physical space.
It also has great potential in the WWI Hospital Tour as visitors can now see detailed images of the wards that look very different to the restored palace. Visitors can now zoom in and come face to face with some of the Indian patients who were once treated in that room.
Tell us what you think
We’ll be evaluating the audio guide over the next few weeks, but feel free to post a comment below if you have used it and wish to share some thoughts.
You can also try the audio guide at home — but do remember that nothing beats using it in the splendour of the actual Royal Pavilion.
Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager