An audio tour or audio guide provides a recorded spoken commentary, normally through a handheld device, to a visitor attraction such as a museum. They are also available for self-guided tours of outdoor locations, or as a part of an organised tour. It provides background, context, and information on the things being viewed. Audio guides are often in multilingual versions and can be made available in different ways. Some of the more elaborate tours available include original music and interviews, offering an experience more comparable to an audio documentary than to a traditional guided tour. Traditionally rented on the spot, more recently downloaded from the Internet or available via the mobile phone network. Some audio guides are free or included in the entrance fee, others have to be purchased separately.
Electronic multimedia guides
A multimedia electronic guide is a device specially designed to provide audio, visual or textual content to museum visitors with or without user interaction. It may also provide alternative content corresponding to different personal preferences. It may include accessories such as headphones, a digital pen and displays with LEDs or LCD screens.
These smart guides may be operated to supply content in different languages and accents, with different voice alternatives like (Man/Woman/Child/Native Speaker/TV Speaker/etc.), with text, with age group specific content. They can be operated in several ways:
- Touch/push buttoned systems will be operated by the visitor. Visitor will enter the code assigned to the object to the electronic museum guide and the related content is provided.
- Location aware systems will semi automatically operate. They sense the location by several alternative technologies and provide the related content. If the sensing area is not narrow enough to detect every different object then the visitor will enter or select the content he or she wants. Location aware systems provides better quality tours to disabled people. Recently location aware systems have been extended to include dynamic routing and image recognition capability.
- Line of Sight Aware Systems will automatically operate. They sense the location and the target object and provides the related content. These systems may include an artificial intelligence that will measure the visitor aims and interest areas and may provide shallower or deeper information for the object. These systems may need special technologies for target detection.
These electronic guides can provide the museum management with useful statistics and reports, which may include tour statistics, visitor statistics, opinions, and other surveys.
Cell phone tours
A cell phone tour is an audio tour where pre-recorded or stream audio interpretation for a heritage site or a cultural exhibit is provided via a cell phone. Cell phone audio tours have the advantage that most visitors already have the equipment needed to take the audio tour, being their cell phones.
Each venue is assigned a phone number with appropriate stop numbers, displayed next the exhibit. Once a visitor has dialed in, they will be prompted and can enter the corresponding stop number of the exhibit they’re viewing, to hear the recorded content. These tours also enable the visitors to: fast forward, rewind, pause, as well as leave a feedback message for each exhibit or the whole tour; simply by pressing a number. In addition to audio content, some providers are also able to stream video, and text message recent visitors with updates. This is the old-style approach, not used widely.
Wikipedia allowed the emergence of a new generation of audio tours and location-based service (LBS) audio tours using the capabilities of smartphones like the iPhone. These audio tours rely on Wikipedia to benefit from a huge source of information (several hundreds thousands of locations around the world). The Wikipedia articles are read thanks to speech synthesis. In this manner, thousands hours of vocal explanations are available. One of such systems, based on patented technologies, were presented during the Wikimedia Conference 2010 in Paris at the National Assembly of France. Its predecessor was presented at World Travel Market in London in 2009.
A GPS tour (using Global Positioning System or GPS) is an audio tour or a multimedia tour that provides pre-recorded spoken commentary, normally through a handheld device, for mobile applications such as walking tours, boats, buses, trolleys and trains. GPS tours can either be GPS guided or self-directed tours that provide visitors with location relevant content about points of interest along a route or within a destination or region. GPS tours are predominately for outdoor applications, but some audio guides offer the flexibility to manually continue tours indoors.
Using satellite technology (GPS), audio and/or multimedia content is triggered based on a user's location, providing location relevant information to visitors depending on who they are, where they are, and what they are viewing.
A GPS audio tour provides "background, context, and information on the works being viewed". The Economist magazine has stated that "aiming such services at tourists makes sense – since people are more likely to want information when in an unfamiliar place."
GPS tours are often unilingual, but advances in technology have made GPS tours for mobile applications available in multiple languages simultaneously. GPS tours can be created by using a combination of software and hardware and can be downloaded from the Internet for mobile phones, often in MP3 format and are available from organizations specializing in GPS tour development. Some GPS tours are free, included in the ticket fee, others have to be purchased separately.
- Fisher, Jennifer (2004), "Speeches of Display: Museum Audioguides by Artists". In Drobnick, Jim, Aural Cultures. ISBN 0-920397-80-8.
- Four steps in the history of museum technologies and visitors' digital participation.
- As employed in the gardens of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England
- Fisher (2004), p. 49.
- Walkin' Broadway from CityListen Audio Tours includes several original interviews with notable Broadway artists and producers.
- An Electronic Guide In Use.
- The Learning Experience With Electronic Museum Guides.
- Accessible Design of a Portable Electronic Museum Guide for Universal Access, University of Cambridge, UK.
- AGAMEMNON: Automated visitor guiding algorithms and image recognition., MJC2, UK.
- Affective Aware Museum Guide.
- Learning from Museums: Visitor Experiences and the Making of Meaning, American Association for State and Local History Book Series. ISBN 0-7425-0295-3.
- Stephen Neuhauser, Cells and Sites: How Historic Sites are Using Cell Phone Tours, National Trust Historic Sites Blog, July 3, 2008.
- Wikimédia Conference 2010, France.
- Travel Blackboard, Gray Line Australia Captivates its Audience With New GPS Audio Tours in Japanese and Mandarin, May 8, 2009.