The National Zoo’s app is by far the most comprehensive museum app I’ve ever encountered. It has EVERYTHING I ever thought I wanted in a museum app, and several things I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them! There are far too many features for me to go through them all, but I’ll provide some of the highlights here. I highly encourage anyone interested in visiting the zoo – virtually or in-person – to download this amazing app!
The app is beautifully designed with large, easy-to-read text, colorful backgrounds, and intuitive navigation features. Since the majority of zoo exhibits are outdoors, internet speed does not tend to be an issue. Some of the app’s features, such as live-stream animal cams and “Zooify Yourself” (discussed later) could potentially use a lot of data and/or battery power, so I would encourage users (and parents of little users) to bear this in mind. The app did crash twice while I was using it, but it re-opened quickly and this didn’t pose too much of a problem for me.
The app includes all important zoo information, including daily schedules, parking information, public transportation information and an interactive zoo map. The “Today at the Zoo” section includes the schedule for feedings, viewings, and zookeeper chats, and links each event to its location on the map.
The interactive zoo map and the tour routes are perhaps the most useful in-zoo features. The map itself leaves something to be desired (not all animals are pictured and none are named in the main view of the map), however it is very helpful in finding amenities such as food, restrooms, and gift shops. There are four tours provided with the app: a highlights tour, upper and lower zoo tours, and “new to the zoo.” Each tour has a short description with an approximate length- they range from 1-2.5 hours. The best feature on the tours menu in “Create a Tour,” in which visitors can view a list of all zoo animals and select those they’d like to see. The app then uses these inputs to create a customized tour for the visitor! I absolutely love this feature, as it can help each individual visitor get the most out of his or her visit. It’s also great for families to plan their route through the zoo in order to hit everyone’s favorite animals!
The app is also extremely useful for distance users as it has many features that do not require users to actually visit the zoo. It definitely takes advantage of all the hype over Bao Bao, the newest addition to their Panda family. Bao Bao has an entire menu to herself, with items such as press, photo gallery, and a live-stream of the extremely popular panda cam!
All animals at the zoo have their own page featuring a description of the species as well as information about conservation efforts. Many of these pages also include audio of animal sounds. Although these descriptions do not include a high level of detail, they are a good starting place for all levels of learners. However, I think the app could be improved by providing links to websites where users who want to know more about a particular kind of animal could find more detailed information. Perhaps the app could even point users in the direction of books sold in the zoo’s gift shops!
Perhaps my favorite feature of this app is “Zooify Yourself.” This feature is purely for fun and doesn’t include any educational content, but what I love about it is the personalized, memory-making activity it provides. With “Zooify Yourself,” users can take a photo of themselves using their device’s built-in camera and add features of different zoo animals over the photo (see my example below). Although the user isn’t necessarily learning anything about zoo animals or conservation from this feature, it really is quite fun and provides a unique virtual artifact for zoo local visitors and distance learners alike!
All in all, the National Zoo app is an excellent example of what museums can and, in my opinion, should be doing with mobile digital technology. This app runs the gamut of functions- it has everything from important planning and travel information to a silly, boredom-busting game to play on the way home, during a lunch break at the zoo, or at home!