Deputy Director at the Government Digital Service Tom Loosemore has written about the government’s ‘by default, no apps’ approach: optimising websites to work on mobile screens, given the increasing number of people now using smartphones and tablets, and developing apps only as an exception to the rule.
According to him, the government understands that citizens should be able to access digital services on the move and has thus adapted Gov.uk for mobile devices. According to Loosemore: “When it comes to mobile, we’re backing open web standards (HTML5). We’re confident that for government services, the mobile web is a winner, both from a user and a cost perspective.”
To the question “But does it follow that the government should also be investing heavily in mobile apps?” his answer is no.
Loosemore believes that “apps may be transforming gaming and social media, but for utility public services, the ‘making your website adapt really effectively to a range of devices’ approach is currently the better strategy. It allows you to iterate your services much more quickly, minimises any market impact and is far cheaper to support.” In other words: “Departments should focus on improving the quality of the core web service.”
In fact, since November of last year central government and agencies need approval from the Cabinet Office before starting work on apps because it is believed that the cost of doing so “will very rarely justify their benefits, especially if the underlying service design is sub-optimal.”
He concludes by writing that: “We are not ‘banning’ apps outright. For example, the NHS-funded ‘Change 4 Life’ healthy lifestyle apps rely on a persistent 24/7 presence on users’ mobiles to try to persuade people to eat and drink more healthily. But we are backing open standards, in this case the Web.”
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