Tour Guide Handsets vs. Mobile Apps

Museums, art galleries and many other attractions have long used digital handsets to offer a personalised audio commentary to complement their attraction. But since the explosion of the smartphone, visitors have been carrying an even greater piece of technology in their pockets.

In this article, we explore how mobile apps compare to traditional tour guide handsets.


Typically, handsets come in sizes ranging from something similar to the old brick phones (for those who remember!) to modern-day iPhones.

Most don’t weigh much more than an average smartphone, but they can be more cumbersome, and visitors often don’t want to carry around a dedicated audio device on top of their phone, bags, hats and scarves.

In short, today’s dedicated handsets are as portable as mobile devices — the only problem is, they’re something extra to carry.

Battery Power

Dedicated handsets can last anywhere from 10 hours to 3 months, depending on size, battery type and feature set. Some are very basic and provide only a series of numbers to press, while others include more smartphone-like features such as colour touchscreens and GPS.

Smartphones, on the other hand, are designed to last a full day and be recharged at night. The real difference is that visitors charge their own smartphones, whereas venues have to charge dedicated handsets themselves — and that adds the extra burden of working out the logistics of doing so.

What’s more, most contracted phone users will update their devices on a cycle of around 24 months, meaning the technology is continually updated and improved at no cost to the venue.


A consideration for any shared device is hygiene — who else has had this next to their face or their ear? It’s not something you want your guests to have to think about.

To ensure handsets are always clean and ready to use, manufacturers recommend cleaning the devices every day with antibacterial wipes and checking each device for damage — a time-consuming task, especially for a large attraction with a fleet of handsets to match.

Mobile apps, on the other hand, require no cleaning from staff, which saves time and money.


The better-produced tour guide handsets support up to 32 different languages, which is an excellent way of ensuring that the guide is accessible to all visitors.

The advantage of a mobile app is that as well as supporting just as many languages, it can automatically detect a user’s language and serve up the relevant content without having to select one explicitly.

What’s more, a mobile app allows you to understand what percentage of visitors speak different languages, and also what regions they’re from (e.g. someone who speaks English could be from the USA — something a mobile knows about and can include in reports).


At the moment, dedicated handsets have limited content available; at most they will include audio and maybe some photos and/or videos on a small screen.

Mobile apps, on the other hand, have endless possibilities. Running on high-resolution displays with multi-touch, GPS, an Internet connection and so much more, apps can have an enormous impact on visitor satisfaction and drive revenue in a way that dedicated handsets cannot.

From wayfinding tools to ensure your visitors never get lost, to Augmented Reality, bringing the past to life like never before — you can maintain a connection with visitors before, during and after their visit.


Updating content on a dedicated handset can be a chore. Often they require a USB connection and bespoke software to upload new information, and this can be time-consuming and tedious. Older models often need each handset to be updated one by one, an even worse scenario.

With a mobile app, you can make changes from any device, anywhere in the world, and deploy those changes with the press of a button.


Dedicated handset prices vary widely, depending on the technology inside. You can expect to pay anything between £100 and £300 per handset, and the software required to run the handset may or may not be an additional charge.

There are other considerations to make with dedicated handsets, too, such as charging stations, spare batteries and the cost of replacements if they’re lost or damaged.

Mobile apps tend to be perceived as a very high-cost option, and may be dismissed, particularly by smaller attractions, as cost-prohibitive. The concern is well founded. Creating an intelligent and feature-rich mobile app that runs on both iOS and Android platforms and can be managed via an online control panel requires significant engineering effort.

However, platforms like ours here at bridge the gap. Instead of having to make the significant investment to build this technology from scratch, you can pay an inclusive monthly fee to access a platform that has an array of proven features. You can offer a mobile app to your visitors at a fraction of the traditional cost and start realising increased visitor satisfaction, revenue generation and insight.

If you’d like to find out more about mobile apps and what they can do for your attraction, check out our website and get in touch. We’re always happy to share what we know.

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