Babbling Beasts FAQ

Here are some of the more common questions I receive over email.  Feel free to contact me via email / twitter if you need more help:

Do I need WiFi?

The short answer is no. It was originally developed to work in museum buildings which tend to be old have thick walls and poor / no WiFi. You don’t need WiFi to build your first Babbling Beast (apart from installing some apps) and you don’t need WiFi to run the Babbling Beasts.

The only time WiFi would be useful is if you decide to set up a batch of Babbling Beasts that have the same content on.

You will need to copy the audio files onto every phone. You can do this by manually plugging each phone into a laptop or my preferred option is to setup DropBox in order to synchronise the files.

If you go this DropBox route you will need to get phones onto WiFi when you make changes to the audio tour. You could then turn on WiFi, wait for the files to download and then turn them off again. This also means you could transport your phones temporarily to an area of your building with a good WiFi signal.

If you never plan to change the content then you would never need WiFi.

Do the phones need a Sim Card?

No. We’re using the phones really as tiny computers / tablets (with touchscreen, WiFi, storage etc all built- in). We’re not using the mobile phone part at all.

Without a SIM in – you can still connect to a WiFi network and use all the features (bar phone calls). It’s the same as when you take your phone abroad and disable mobile data – but still get on WiFi at the hotel to check your email.

Does it have to be a Nexus 4 phone?

No. At the time of creation Nexus 4 phones were often available second hand for ~£50. I found them a good choice as they were originally a fairly high end ‘reference’ phone. The reference part means that it comes with all the standard features. Other mobile phone developers might have removed some of these features to save money – e.g. the removal of NFC.

Often people prefer (or are required) to buy brand new equipment. There is usually a low-end NFC equipped android phone available for around £100 which would be ideal for the job. At the time of writing (early 2018) the Nokia 3 ( seems a suitable option and is available for ~£100.

Where are the devices stored?

Typically they would be somewhere near to the main reception desk / area. The Babbling Beasts can be provided to and collected from the visitors here. When not in use the Babbling Beasts should be charged.

Some places are comfortable allowing visitors to help themselves – however generally this will be in an area already guarded with CCTV or security person.

How do you secure the devices?

There’s a variety of choices. The first is that we use cheap devices which are hidden inside cases so a potential perpetrator doesn’t not what is inside and whether it is worth stealing.

Secondly, you can build it into your tour – so that the end location in the experience is the drop-off point. This can be accompanied by the free gift, e.g. pen or discount in the cafe.

Thirdly, you can have the visitor drop off some form of security or deposit such as a bank card or ID.

The first three are basic / cheap to implement – and ideal if you are a smaller location.

Above this there are a couple of options. One is to place an anti-theft device on the phone itself (RFID or Low Power Bluetooth).

An alternative is installing an off the shelf mobile phone anti-theft application such as Cerberus. These allow you disable use of the phone remotely. And even support taking a photo of anyone who tries to use the phone.

Can you support different languages?

Yes, although technically this is more challenging.  You can obviously build multiple trails in different languages if you use multiple sets of NFC cards – one per language.

It’s much better to use a single set of NFC cards – and then allow the phone to switch language.  The options are either to have some Beasts assigned to a particular language.  Alternatively, allow all Beasts to support all languages and switch the language using a special case NFC card (typically hidden behind a picture of a flag).  Both of these require more technical expertise so it’s probably best to get in contact.

Are there more advanced things we can do with this technology?

Absolutely.  This was the same technology (and more) that was used in the prototype ‘Farmer George’s Flock’ game created for Historical Royal Palaces.

You can also see some more advanced examples under the ‘Advanced NFC’ page.

Can you come on-site and help us with this?

Sure, I enjoy collaborating with museums / small groups of museums. Part of my business is running bespoke workshops either based around these existing topics or other digital / game aspects. I’ve 10+ years of working in lecturing positions within Higher Education and it’s something I still enjoy. This can range from a single day – to a series of visits to help you get up and running. You can focus on the storytelling with my mentorship and support and I can also handle the more technical aspects.

At the high-end I also create and install these and more advanced game-like experiences from scratch working with writers, designers and voice over artists.

Is there any way to make it easier for users to select the tags?

Absolutely.  Many users have no problems whatsoever and quickly learn the best way to trigger the phone.  However, it doesn’t come naturally to all so we should help our users as much as possible.  The problem is basically caused by the user not knowing exactly where the NFC reader is on the back of the phone and so struggle aligning it to the NFC tag.  There’s a few things that can help.

Firstly, you don’t just have to use a single NFC tag.  You can use as many as you like and hide them away.  You just copy the same set of tasks to each tag and then group them together.  A little group of 3 or 4 together makes the target area much larger.

Secondly, try not to have any blank space at the beginning of the audio recording.  Often a user has correctly triggered the NFC tag but then they hear a second or two of silence so don’t realise they have triggered it correctly.  Then what happens is that the user continues to try and repeatedly triggers it so restarting the audio each time.  So constantly hearing the blank beginning section.  This is easily solved – you just need to edit the audio file to remove any blank space and ensure that the audio begins immediately.

Thirdly, you can use the vibrate ability of the phone to give some additional feedback that the user has triggered the tag.  You need to add another task using NFC Tools Pro.  You can find the vibrate task under the Various group.  I find one second works fine.  Set this as your first task and then the user will ‘feel’ that their action is correct.

Finally, you can mark on the back of your phone / case combination exactly where the NFC reader is.  This will help users accurately learn where to place the phone to trigger it.  Once they’ve had a couple of goes they’re be trained in it and it will become natural to them.  I like to give them a practice go close to where they collect their device from.