To App or not to App?

Mobile Device App Blast

Canadian Government Mobile Gating Chart.

Canada is in the process of moving to a completely responsive web framework, that intelligently reflows the site to fit devices of any sort. The “Web Experience Toolkit” (WET) is based on the Twitter Bootstrap system, but has been greatly modified to ensure it is accessible and meets WCAG 2.0 standards.

This greatly reduces or removes the need for creating mobile apps for most services. As you’ve seen from the infographic above, Canada believes that there is still a need for some apps, if they can justify requiring the additional capabilities of a mobile device (camera, GPS, accelerometer, etc.).

In the Canadian Government there are standards published by the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) concerning whether or not a department or agency should create a mobile app. They have empowered Senior Departmental Officials (SDOs) in each department to oversee the creation or approval of apps. Generally these SDOs are the Assistant Commissioners of communication departments, and are not in the IT departments.

SDOs are responsible for:

  • Approving device-based mobile application projects, before they are commissioned or funded, based on the project requirements described in TBS Standards *
  • Approving publication of each device-based mobile application *
  • Ensuring that for device-based mobile applications: *
    • The departmental mandate and priorities are supported;
    • The key performance indicators are defined; and
    • Metrics are collected to measure effectiveness.
  • Encouraging departmental managers, functional specialists, and equivalents responsible for websites, Web applications and device-based mobile applications to collaborate, share expertise and build reusable components and tools, both departmentally and interdepartmentally.*

* TBS Standard on Optimizing Websites and Applications for Mobile Devices

Canada’s “Mobile Centre” is a directory to many of their mobile apps. If you visit you will notice that many of the apps are “web” only. This means that they could have easily have been created as a regular web application. Many of the web apps listed there do not follow the standards that TBS created and create a confusing interface for those using web browsers on a laptop or desktop screen. As an example, buttons that span the width of a mobile screen also span the width of a desktop screen creating ‘buttons’ that look more like header bars.

Over time as the mobile standards become more firmly entrenched, Canada may move to a more consistent look and feel, and ensure that they follow their own standards.

UK Government

The UK has decided to go another route and had decided not to pursue the creation of mobile apps at all. There is a very interesting article written in 2016 entitled “Why Britain banned mobile apps” which details an interview with Ben Terrett, former design chief at the GDS.

There was an earlier article entitled “We’re not ‘appy. Not ‘appy at all.” written in 2013 in which they had not yet banned apps, but were heading down that path.

They have decided that a responsive website meets the needs of their citizens if it is designed to intelligently re-format to the mobile device.

So what now?

I suspect that governments will find that most of their services can be effectively delivered on the web, but if the additional functionality of the mobile device is used judiciously, it can extend the services to deliver enriched user experiences.

As we continue to push to make sure everything is digital, the rest of the non-digital population can’t be ignored. Not all citizens have mobile phones, or computers connected to internet. The analog forms, publications and call centres will still have importance for many years to come.

Article and Infographic by: Jonathan Rath

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