Reviewed April 2021
Michalle Gould, Library Director
Laguna College of Art + Design
BLVRD Features is an iOS app by Boulevard, a company based in New York, Los Angeles, and London, that has created apps that provide “arts-based experiences shared through virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies.” BLVRD Features focuses on “bite-sized Augmented Reality (AR) experiences exploring fascinating stories of creativity innovation and expression.” It has no explicit target user base, but the company’s website hints at a desired demographic of K-12 students, featuring explanations of how its offerings can be used in the classroom and encouraging educators to reach out to Boulevard for “free lesson plans, object lists, and other educational resources.”
While it is not clear how new the app is, it still feels to some extent like a work in progress. There are two sets of features: Boulevard Arts, with six episodes, and Wadsworth Atheneum, with two. Boulevard Arts is about specific artists (Durer, Van Gogh, and Loie Fuller) and also has one episode on the color blue. By contrast, the Wadsworth Atheneum’s episodes provide analysis of specific paintings, a more successful use of the platform. In this context, the narrator is able to delve more deeply into what gives the painting lasting artistic significance, while the episodes focusing on the artists at times felt superficial. When viewing the latter, an educated user may find the content perfunctory, and even a student may feel unsatisfied with what they have learned.
On the technical side, although the AR is intriguing and it is exciting to see the works of art in one’s own space, there were some difficulties in placing the objects. With a smaller device, it is hard to find a placement, resulting in discomfort when viewing the AR item and listening to the narration. Users with a tablet or larger phone may have more success. There is some level of interactivity, in terms of “popping out” further visual artifacts from the original image; however, the brevity of the approach meant that it did not always feel that a narrative was building and growing with each additional image.
One thing to be aware of when considering the app is that it is currently only available to Apple users with an ARKit-ready iOS device. Although Boulevard’s website states that the app will be coming soon to Android, for now this creates some issues with equitable access, especially if the app is being used in the classroom. Many potential users may not necessarily have access to a device that can play the app. However, for those that do, the app is free and easy to set up.
Overall, while this app has potential, it still feels very much like a work in progress, and the developers might have been wise to wait to release it until more content was ready. The episodes focusing on specific paintings are much more successful than those focusing on an artist or a theme. The app could also benefit from more interactivity, enabling the user to control the content more through individual choices. For now, young students will likely get the most out of using this app, though they will quickly run out of things to do.