It might be almost 250 years old, but the auction house Christie's is ringing in a new era with the release of an iPhone application aimed at bringing art sales into the digital age. The newly launched program will allow iPhone and iPod Touch users to view lots on offer around the globe and follow real-time auctions right up until the hammer falls. Users can even submit items for appraisal with the devices' camera - a feature that's probably more likely to see Christie's inundated with images of half-chewed Star Wars action figures than lost works by Monet.
The auction house even plans to add a live-bidding tool, which would allow users to take part in high-price auctions remotely, a service that's already offered through the Christie's Live website. Just make sure you don't have the application left on in your pocket when the bidding reaches six figures. Once this happens, as well as being an invaluable tool for art collectors, the application will no doubt also become invaluable for people looking for a way to impress their flashiest and most cultured friends. We recommend pulling out your iPhone during a conversation and giving a huge dejected sigh. When asked the matter, say: "Oh, I've just been outbid on the Picasso."
The handy application will also allow users to e-mail pictures of interesting lots to friends (also good for showing off), find a local salesroom using Google Maps (useful in an emergency) and download wallpaper images (just in case you haven't shown off enough already). Users can download the tool for free through the auction house's website, www.christies.com, its Facebook group or Twitter feed, and the iPhone App Store.
Anyone who downloads the program will be able to view virtual versions of Christie's catalogues, complete with high-quality images of the lots. In fact, the Apple device will even be able to zoom in on and rotate any object on offer, from some 450 auctions. Christie's, founded in London in 1766, hopes the application will attract a new tech-savvy client base to its auctions, as the recession continues to dampen sales of art, antiques and memorabilia. Michael O'Neal, the director of digital media at Christie's, said he hopes the tool will help keep existing and potential buyers "in touch and informed". Christie's is the latest of many cultural institutions to embrace iPhone technology in recent months.
Last month, the UK's National Gallery launched the Love Art application, allowing users to view 250 of the gallery's paintings and listen to expert commentary on them. Also in June, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra launched an app that allows users to look up event information, book tickets and even listen to music. Others are clearly keen to get in on the act. On July 2, New York's Museum of Modern Art asked its Twitter followers: "What features would you like to see in an iPhone app for a specific museum?"
Applications can be created by anyone and are already being used for a range of purposes. iPhones can now help users manage their finances, create works of art and compose music. There were an estimated 55,000 applications available via the App Store at the beginning of June. The total cost of downloading every app from the US iTunes store is now $144,326.06 (Dh530,038), according to the technology blog site Busted Loop, with the average paid-for application costing $3.34 (Dh12.3). Many are available for free, however, and more than a billion apps have been downloaded to date.
Computer games such as I Dig It and GloBall dominate the paid-for application chart on iTunes. The free chart includes a large number of applications with everyday uses, like a mirror function and a torch. Facebook's application is one of the most frequently downloaded free offerings. In August 2008, an application called I Am Rich was on offer for $999.99 (Dh3,673). It performed no function other than displaying a glowing red gem on your iPhone screen. The application was removed from the App Store the day after its release, but not before six people had allegedly paid to download it. If you didn't manage to catch it in time, bidding for an old master on your iPhone might be a slightly more subtle way to make the same point.