Firoze Lafeer replied to the topic There’s an App for That—Perhaps There Shouldn’t Be in the forum Forum Discussions 8 years, 11 months ago
I think this is a great topic. One point I would make is that of the 32 “apps” listed at apps.usa.gov, many of them are not apps at all. Many are actually just mobile websites, which I think is the right solution for a lot of cases. But let’s not forget that mobile websites aren’t free, they also requires strategy, design, content, maintenance, security, and so on. There is a fair amount of good work that needs to be done to support the multiple mobile browsers out there and keep up with the new ones as they come out.
But what mobile websites don’t necessarily require is the specialized designers and developers that you need to really pull off an Android or iOS app that performs smoothly and is easy to maintain and doesn’t make your users just want to delete it after one use.
Now the other option, like you say, is just to provide an API for developers to use. Personally I think that should always be the default. Even if you do choose to make a native Android app for example, the data and/or API should be made clearly available for a third party to make an iOS app or a WP7 app or a WebOS app with that. I think very few agencies can directly support every platform out there now, and it wouldn’t be a wise investment to build 5 different apps anyway given that we don’t know what will happen to the smaller platforms in the next 2-3 years.
So is there room for the government building actual native apps? I think so. You mentioned apps that require access to the hardware. I would add there are also apps that need to be able to work without network connections or with intermittent network connections. For example, the MyTSA app supports the ability to search for what you can bring on board a flight, and that function works while you’re waiting in line at a checkpoint with or without a network connection, which is exactly when a user would need that function. There are some use cases like that where websites may not work well, and the user wants an authoritative answer from the agency, not from a third party. (TSA also provides a mobile website for all the other types of devices)
But, yes, I think it’s very smart to start with the use cases and start with the default of providing the data openly and then think about a mobile optimized site and/or an app if that is what makes sense.
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