Who is using iBeacons for Museums?

iBeacons (or Beacons) are being used across a wide range of museums around the world.   iBeacons can add interactivity to existing exhibits and services, enhance visitor experience and engagement, provide analytic insights to the museum – and even deliver an entirely new and engaging exhibit based on smartphone apps and the iBeacons themselves.

Why Are Museums Important?

There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined.

Museums employ more than 400,000 Americans.

Museums receive approximately 55 million visits each year from students in school groups.

Museums are considered a more reliable source of historical information than books, teachers or even personal accounts by relatives.

Americans view museums as one of the most important resources for educating their children and as one of the most trustworthy sources of objective information

Ref: American Alliance of Museums, 2014

Why Are Smartphones and iBeacons Important?

Simply put, smartphones are ubiquitous.  Some recent statistics:

Smartphone Adoption

75% of mobile subscribers in the United States own smartphones

Ref: comsScore February 2015

Smartphone Adoption by Demographic

In 2015 68% of American adults had a smartphone, up from 35% in 2011.

Smartphone ownership is nearing the saturation point and are ubiquitous with some groups:

  • 86% of those ages 18-29 have a smartphone,
  • 83% of those ages 30-49, and
  • 87% of those living in households earning $75,000 and up annually.

Ref: Pew Research, Technology Device Ownership: October 2015

What Is An iBeacon?

An iBeacon is a small physical device, such as the example below which measures 25mm x 70mm x 18.3mm and is powered by two AAA batteries which typically last a year.


The iBeacon broadcasts a low power signal which can be detected by applications running on smartphones.

iBeacon devices are physically placed in a location close / attached to an point of interest by the venue and is configured to broadcast a specific signal that is unique to that device.

The venue is typically responsible for performing the physical beacon deployment and replacing batteries as needed.

Who Have Deployed iBeacons?

The following are examples of some international deployments:

  • Canada
    • Canadian Museum of Nature
    • Canadian Museum of Human Rights
  • United States
    • Brooklyn Museum
    • Guggenheim Museum
    • LACMA
    • Harvard University Museum
    • American Museum of Natural History
    • Metropolitan Museum of Art
    • Cleveland Museum of Art
    • Grand Rapids Public Museum
    • De Young Museum (San Francisco)
    • Seattle Art Museum
    • Palmer Museum of Art
    • The MET
  • Europe
    • Kew Gardens (London)
    • EYE Museum (Amsterdam)
    • The Louvre (Paris)
    • The Neon Museum (Poland)
    • Rubens Art Museum (Belgium)
    • Groninger Museum (Netherlands)
    • National Slate Museum (North Wales)
    • Philips Museum, Eindhoven (Netherlands)
  • Australia
    • Mona Museum
    • Museum Victoria
    • South Australian Maritime Museum

What Are Some Success Stories?

Some examples of success stories include:

New Museum, New York City

  • Hosted an exhibit on the UN’s International Day for Mine Awareness
  • Beacons were spread out within the museum as virtual landmines
  • Visitor comes to close to a beacon it would act as a land mine and detonate

Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

  • Used Beacons to explore Evolution
  • Each time a visitor visits a beacon, their creature would evolve
  • After five evolutions the creature was complete and could be shared via social media

Philips Museum, Netherlands

  • Used Beacons to create a family game (Mission Eureka) inside the museum
  • It encourages people to solve problems like real inventors

How Are iBeacons Being Used?

iBeacons can be used in several general “modes” or use cases:

  • Providing Contextual Information such as:
    • Trigger ProximityLocation-based Information
      • Inform visitors of a lecture when walking past the auditorium
      • Further information regarding an exhibit
      • Information about facilities available
      • Recommend exhibits
      • Up-sell gifts/products/special offers from venue store
      • Surveys
      • Welcome messages
    • Wayfinding – display visitor’s location on museum map
  • Collecting Analytics
    • Improve exhibit locations based on user flow information
    • Measure dwell times at certain locations
    • Visitor time within the museum
  • Venue Check-in
    • Pay entrance fee by just walking in (no more lines)
    • Providing an elevated experience to frequent visitors
  • Self Guided Tours
    • Visitors can proceed at their own pace moving from Beacon to Beacon
  • Unique Interactive Exhibit / Teaching Tool
    • Learning activities, e.g. collaborative team activities/games, solving challenges, discovery
    • School and camp Initiated field trips are enhanced through beacon interaction

What Are Some Learnings?

Learnings published by museums identify the primary issues with beacons as being related to related to operational deployment processes and considerations, specifically:

  • Beacon to Beacon Proximity
    • Beacons being place too close together can result in a user receiving unrelated content regarding an exhibit
  • Beacon Detection Accuracy
    • Beacon proximity detection can be affected by walls, exhibits and people
  • Beacon Installation
    • Devices lack of colour selection to blend into exhibit
    • Identifying the placement on the exhibit
    • Selection of proper attachment method to avoid beacons falling off

Museums adapted their processes and deployments to take into account these learnings and did not view them as barriers to continued deployment and innovation.

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