Ben Terrett, the former head of design at the UK Government’s Digital Service, tells GovInsider why the agency banned mobile phone apps with the British taxpayers saving £4.1bn over the following four years.
Instead the GDS insisted agencies built responsive web sites so pages would adapt to the devices they were being read upon, saving time and money being devoted to developing and maintaining individual apps for different platforms.
Apps are “very expensive to produce, and they’re very very expensive to maintain because you have to keep updating them when there are software changes,” GovInsider quotes Terrett.
For those of us who worry about the increasingly siloed and proprietary nature of the internet, Terret’s story is very good news. Apps are particularly problematic as they stunt innovation, lock users into platforms and give those who control the App stores – mainly Apple and Google – massive market power.
It’s no co-incidence Facebook are currently in the process of restricting web access to their messenger service. Locking users into their app gives them far more power over users and much more control over their data.
On the other hand, the open web means sites are more accessible and not subject to the corporate whims of whoever controls a given silo. It also means that any data collected is far more likely to be commoditised, something Facebook hates.
That government agencies and large corporations are realising the costs, risks and value they are handing over the gatekeepers by developing apps is encouraging. It would be good if they considered the other downsides of giving the web over to a small clique of companies.