GOV.UK not ’appy, the web's enough

The government will prioritise mobile web over native apps to provide greater mobile access to its public services, according to Tom Loosemore, deputy director at government digital service.

In a blog post about the ongoing change in how people use government digital services, Loosemore said that smartphone and tablet use is rapidly increasing and users “now expect to be able to change the date of their driving test while on the bus, or pay their VAT while lying in bed”.

The old Directgov site saw only a tenth of its traffic come from hits to its separate mobile site, but the responsive GOV.UK site finds a quarter of visits coming from mobile. This figure leaps to 45 per cent for the e-petitions service.

Logically, some people may expect that apps would be the way forward to cater for this explosion in mobile device usage. However, Loosemore argued that “native apps are rarely justified”. Even if they were to be considered, policy dictates that approval would be required from Cabinet Office and the core web service would already have to work well. Additionally, budgetary considerations could make such a move unworkable.

Loosemore concluded that open web standards remained a winner from a user and cost perspective, and certainly within the field of utility public services.

As developer Pete Verdon wryly pointed out, GOV.UK services are exactly the kind of occasional use a solid responsive website is good for. This also negates the need to clutter a device with yet another app.

Although Loosemore’s post was in part directed at government departments and civil servants, it’s clear the conclusions and messages within are appropriate for and relevant to a large number of online industries.

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