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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Should Governments Build iPhone Apps During a Recession?

The State of Utah has released the first iPhone app by a state government and it is pretty impressive. In addition to the directory of departments and services available through the Utah.gov app (iTunes link) there's also a second app available called the Utah Professional License Lookup.

Would you like your local and state governments to offer iPhone apps? We can see some reasons for it and some reasons why it might not be such a good idea.

utahiphone.jpgThe iPhone clearly offers the most compelling mobile interface on the market. Making government services findable through that interface is quite appealing. All the listings you can find and "click to call" through the app are google-able already, but there's something to be said about click-and-scroll navigation through an officially structured system of organization. For many people working in the field, or driving down the street and looking for someone official to complain to about their neighbors or area businesses, government services through an interface like this could be a real boon.


The possibilities to take government iPhone apps even further are endless. RWW reader Celeste LeCompte, for example, says "As a cyclist, I'd love to have a location-aware app for mapping & reporting potholes, seeing who else has reported [an] issue."

Is This Really Appropriate?

There's something about seeing governments spend money on an iPhone app that seems a little questionable though, especially at a time like this. With so many people out of work and losing their homes - is building an app for a device owned by the relatively well-to-do really a good priority? In theory such apps could increase economic productivity and thus more than pay for themselves. That's the kind of trickle-down argument that gets made all the time about everything.

The iPhone is also a very locked-down, proprietary system that is far from universally accessible.

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