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No iPhone Apps, Please — We're British 393

Posted by samzenpus
from the none-for-us-thank-you dept.
GMGruman writes "The BBC has stirred up quite a row in Britain about a shocking use of taxpayer funds: creating iPhone apps to provide citizens services. As InfoWorld blogger Galen Gruman notes, it's apparently bad in Britain for the government to use modern technology during a recession, a mentality he likens as a shift from 'cool Britannia' to 'fool Britannia.'"
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No iPhone Apps, Please — We're British

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  • by SigNuZX728 (635311) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:38AM (#32836142)
    iPhone apps are great and all, but they're not much use to people who don't have iPhones. Why not work on regular old websites? Also you run the risk of Apple pulling your app from the store. Then there's thousands of taxpayer pounds down the drain.
    • by JustinRLynn (831164) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:40AM (#32836144)
      iPhone is best [youtube.com] (NSFW language)
    • by janek78 (861508) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:57AM (#32836212) Homepage

      While I'm all for the governments embracing modern tools and technology, developing an app for a selected brand of phones to help motorcyclists - that's just ridiculous.

      TFA makes a point that "It's very likely that not all of the government's iPhone apps were well-conceived -- but neither are all of the private sector apps in the App Store". But the private ones are not funded with our tax money! It's alarming that the author does not see the difference. Let private parties make ridiculously absurd applications that only two people in the world have use for. Let them make apps that NO-ONE needs or wants. But the government does not have this liberty, the government does not have any of its own money or resources.

      If there is demand for an app that acts as a warning light for motorists, let someone make and sell it, let people compete for whose is the best.

      Dear government, you are (almost) always ineffective and always expensive. Please remember that and stick with doing your real job.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mcvos (645701)

        According to TFA, a whopping 40,000 pounds was wasted on this. Compared to the many millions that are regularly wasted on websites, I don't see this as a terribly big deal. If the apps are useful at all, I'd rather have the government expand this project to other platforms than to stop it completely.

        As for wasted tax money, most government websites (where I live at least) cost way more than they should. If you fix that, you can fund thousands of iPhone apps with the money you saved.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Dear government, you are (almost) always ineffective and always expensive. Please remember that and stick with doing your real job.

        This is true. I'm especially pleased with the improvement in service and reduction in costs I've enjoyed from British Telecom and the utilities post-privatisation. Oh, wait...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ultranova (717540)

        Dear government, you are (almost) always ineffective and always expensive. Please remember that and stick with doing your real job.

        That is not the real problem here. What is is that using tax money to make iPhone apps is giving Apple an unfair advantage over its competitors at taxpayer's expense, making this yet another example of corporate welfare.

      • by BasilBrush (643681) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @06:05AM (#32837070)

        Given that you don't live in the UK, it's not your government, and it's not your tax money. So spare us the pleas.

        The dumb article has it wrong. It's not an app for "motorcyclists", it's an app for "motorists". Motorcyclists don't "change their wheel" by the roadside, they don't carry a spare. A few might carry a spare innertube. But that's not what this app is about.

        Reading between he lines the app appears to be one to encourage people to update their details with the DVLA - who are in charge of road tax and licensing. In order to encourage people to download it, it has some motoring utilities, such as the ones mentioned.

        What we have here is a chain of misinformation that goes TPA -> BBC -> Galen Gruman -> "GM" Gruman -> Slashdot. The TPA is "The Tax Payers Alliance", which is a right wing lobby group against pretty much any government spending, that routinely twists the truth in press releases, and is responsible as a result for a lot of misinformation in UK news channels. So a rocky start, but at each step of the way, the message has become more twisted still.

    • by Dinjay (571355) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:57AM (#32836214)

      Here is the BBC story if anyone is interested: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/10514367.stm [bbc.co.uk]

      Governments using modern technology to support/educate users should be encouraged - it will assist the UK IT industry employment, grow UK IT capabilities and give citizens the information they need when they need it. But at the same time, a government should be careful not strongly benefit one closed source platform over other platforms. Of course this doesn't mean that the UK government should build applications in all mobile platforms - just that they should build at lease some software application on another platform - preferably an open source one.

      • by dave420 (699308) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @03:56AM (#32836476)
        Fuck whether the platform is closed or not - the biggest problem is that public money should be spent on public benefit. Not everyone has an iPhone, so an iPhone-only app is stupid. At least make it a normal website, which anyone with a browser can access.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          Not everyone has high definition TV, and yet the BBC do broadcast in HD on some channels - should my lack of HD capability prevent others from benefiting? No.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by imakemusic (1164993)

            That is funded by the BBC Television License Fee, not by taxes.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            HD is a cross-company standard. The iPhone is owned by a single company. Big difference.

        • by mcvos (645701)

          But what if a website doesn't give the user the power than a native app would? If it can be done cheaply (and this does sound extremely cheap for a government project), then I'm all for native apps for the various mobile platforms.

    • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:58AM (#32836218) Homepage

      Not to mention that the apps don't seem terribly useful. Have a look at the original BBC article - to quote, "The most expensive application was a proposed Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) app that provides "a masterclass for changing your wheel"." and then goes on to explain how it can act as a hazard warning light, calculate fuel consumption and track RAC patrols. So, right there you've got an app costing (apparently) £40,000 to develop, that only runs on a single, expensive platform and is only of use to RAC members who don't know how to change a wheel. Waitaminute. [bbc.co.uk]

      Firstly, if you passed your test in the UK in the past five years then knowing how to change a wheel is actually part of the test. You don't have to actually do it on the test, you just have to demonstrate that you know how - so if, for example, you're disabled you could ask someone to help and tell them what to do. Furthermore, if you don't know how to change a wheel, *and* you have RAC cover, then you could just phone the RAC and within half an hour or so a guy in a big orange van will be along and change it for you.

      That forty grand could be spent on far more useful things.

      • Uh, you have to know how to change tires to pass the test? Why in God's name is that a test point? It's certainly not relevant to safe driving. I have had 1 flat tire in 35+ years. I certainly know how to change them (changed many a tire on race cars), but I would wager that most people would call the auto club.

        • by qc_dk (734452) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @04:22AM (#32836594)

          Because I live in Scandinavia and changing tires(summer/winter) is most certainly relevant to safe driving?

          Plus, Scandinavia is one of them ebul sociamolist places without poor people, so getting your tires changed is ~$100 (cost of labour only), and I'm paying 60% tax. It makes no sense for me to work two days more to afford something I could do myself in 30 minutes.

          • by teslar (706653) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @07:30AM (#32837528)

            Because I live in Scandinavia and changing tires(summer/winter) is most certainly relevant to safe driving?

            Sure, but why would a DVLA test be relevant to you if you live in Scandinavia? Conversely, why should the DVLA test for things that might be useful in Scandinavia? I agree that it's useful to know how to change tires (and it ain't exactly rocket science anyways). But "the British DVLA should test it because it saves me money in Norway" is not a good argument.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tehcyder (746570)

          Uh, you have to know how to change tires to pass the test? Why in God's name is that a test point? It's certainly not relevant to safe driving. I have had 1 flat tire in 35+ years. I certainly know how to change them (changed many a tire on race cars), but I would wager that most people would call the auto club.

          The UK has sensibly decided to include this, as well as questions about routine maintenance in the driving test. It means that fewer people will drive around in dangerous vehicles simply because t

      • Firstly, if you passed your test in the UK in the past five years then knowing how to change a wheel is actually part of the test. You don't have to actually do it on the test, you just have to demonstrate that you know how

        I passed my UK driving test in January 2008, and changing a tyre was not on either the theory or practical syllabuses, my instructor never mentioned it (and he supplied me with a 10 page list of the question-answer things that the tester will ask during the practical - changing a tyre is not on it, I just checked) and my tester never asked about it. None of the reading materials I used (and still have) mention it as a test requirement.

        The UK test has part that are designed to ensure that you can keep a car

      • by prefect42 (141309)

        Firstly, if you passed your test in the UK in the past five years then knowing how to change a wheel is actually part of the test. You don't have to actually do it on the test, you just have to demonstrate that you know how - so if, for example, you're disabled you could ask someone to help and tell them what to do.

        No, you don't necessarily get asked. There's a randomly selected part that relates to that. You're expected to know where things are under the bonnet (so may be asked to show where things are), and there's a more practical test to walk through the steps to check your lights are working or to test if your power steering has failed. I can believe it's in the random list of things you're supposed to know, but you've probably only got a 25% chance of being asked about it. But having taken my test in the pas

      • I can confirm, as my youngest brother is doing his test this summer (already failed once). Changing the tyre, for some reason, is not part of the test. It really is ridiculous. In most countries, other than 'Murrika (and apparently the UK) it is knowledge any driver has, and asking a mechanic to come out and do it for you would be laughable.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Manip (656104)

        Changing a tire is not part of the UK driving test as it stands. You do have to know how to check the tire for damage, check the oil, and water levels.

        Also saying "change the wheel" doesn't mean what you think it means....

    • The UK government has done some great things which can allow third party apps, such as create the TransXChange [dft.gov.uk] schema for exchanging information about public transport (which is used other places too).

      On my iPhone I have TripView [grofsoft.com] which is a third party app that (I assume) uses such data and provides a far better interface than any web page (or paper based time table) could.
    • by rishistar (662278)

      Totally agree. In fact the best thing to do is to provide a good mobile website, not an app. I love the fact that National Rail provides a great one for example.

    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      Java. Works on almost every fucking phone out there, including most 100euro+ non-smartphones made in the last couple of years.

      Why not use that?

      • by Superken7 (893292)

        Well, assuming you are talking about the "old standard" J2ME, no it does not work on android or iphone - the two fastest-growing players in the mobile market.

        IMHO a website should be the way to go

  • iphone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frenger (1525791) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:41AM (#32836152)
    Ok, but maybe the taxpayer dollars should be spent on services that everyone can make use of, not just iPhone users.
    • Re:iphone (Score:5, Funny)

      by zwei2stein (782480) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @03:03AM (#32836244) Homepage

      Yes, but how else are brittish going to "donate" money to ipod developer nephew of director?

      He has to make living, you know ... what better way to provide him that giving him project that no-one will really use (and thus noone will complain about if it goes horribly wrong.).

    • Re:iphone (Score:5, Insightful)

      by williamhb (758070) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @03:03AM (#32836246) Journal

      Ok, but maybe the taxpayer dollars should be spent on services that everyone can make use of, not just iPhone users.

      It's more than just that. If the Government develops iPhone apps, but not apps for the other proprietary platforms, then that could be seen as a Government endorsement of Apple over their competitors. Why are taxpayers' pounds being spent endorsing and promoting a foreign company's products that few can afford? Of course it offends British sensibilities -- not only is it the poor subsidising the rich (all taxpayers pay, but only the wealthier who can afford iPhones benefit), and not only does it distort the market for smart-phones, but it also puts the companies that invest in the UK and EU at a disadvantage. (Many of the other mobile developers, such as Nokia and Google, invest and employ significantly in the UK)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by X10 (186866)

        Next year, the BBC will air programs that you can only view on a Sony TV set.

      • by mcvos (645701)

        If the Government develops iPhone apps, but not apps for the other proprietary platforms, then that could be seen as a Government endorsement of Apple over their competitors.

        It's cute you're getting all wound up about this, but there's also an Android version of that app.

        If your point is the accessibility of the apps, then maybe it's smarter to ask the government which other platforms they support, and demand that they port those apps to Symbian and MeeGo, instead of demanding that they stop all development completely.

    • Re:iphone (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xest (935314) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @03:26AM (#32836346)

      Exactly, the InfoWorld blogger is an idiot if he doesn't get this.

      We can't justify spending thousands on something that not only an absolute minority can access, but likely only a minority of that minority will ever bother to use anyway.

      They'd even have had an argument if they'd done it for Symbian, by far the UK's biggest mobile platform, but even that would be a push. The fact they focussed on a minority, but popular device simply demonstrates they just wanted to play around with the latest gadgets rather than focus on actually doing their job. The web is far and away the most sensible option.

      But it's something that effects even pseudo-public sector- look at the BBC, their iPlayer app prioritised the iPhone well ahead of any platform, despite being completely against the BBCs requirement of providing equal access to content that license payers pay for.

      If it was private sector then that's fine, what they do is upto them, they may still be criticised but it's their choice at the end of the day. Public sector doesn't have that choice, you can't expect people to pay the same taxes and one of them get all the benefits and the other get nothing simply because of their choice of mobile phone particularly if the phone they chose is actually the same as the majority of the rest of the population are using. In public sector it has to be all or nothing- either support iPhone, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, MeeGo or don't do it at all and again, as people have said here a few times, the web is far and away the best platform to do it for all.

      I'm sure someone will point out some fringe platform and say "Well should they support that?", no, of course there are fringe cases and they can't be expected to necessarily support 100% of platforms, but they need to make sure they at least cover the majority of the population for this sort of thing- ideally a vast majority, such as around 95% or so.

      The only thing I will say is that public sector has had problems with websites too so it's not just a case of switching to the web until they sort out their issues there, one website they created (nothing overly complex, just a standard CMS albeit with lots of content) cost £105 million- how can that even be justified? Most private sector developers are saying they'd have quoted around £50,000 for the same site, maybe up into the hundreds of thousands if they had to employ staff to enter all the content and such, but £105 million? How can you even spend that much money building a website?

      So public sector in the UK has a major problem with IT, the iPhone apps are just one facet of it, but sensible web development seems to be the obvious solution in most cases.

      • Whenever a new technology comes along some government functionary (often several at the same time) decide it will be a career-enhancing move to show how modern and cutting-edge they can be by splurging some of their departmental budget on it.

        This is justified either as "pump priming" to help create new businesses specialising in the new technology or, if that won't wash, as a necessary step along the road to the "digital economy". The main goal is usually to ensure that a photograph results of said function

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Xest (935314)

          "The main goal is usually to ensure that a photograph results of said functionary or his patron standing next to something shiny."

          This made me smile. I worked in public sector for a few years and reading through this sentence gave me flashbacks of countless halls across the different sites I worked at lined with pictures of smug looking folk being presented trophies for the most obscure awards, which they were often self-nominated for, or in some cases nominated for by a brown nosing underling or a boss who

      • by mcvos (645701)

        We can't justify spending thousands on something that not only an absolute minority can access, but likely only a minority of that minority will ever bother to use anyway.

        What the fuck? Governments regularly spend millions on various minorities. How can you possibly not justify spending mere thousands?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AGMW (594303)

      Ok, but maybe the taxpayer dollars should be spent on services that everyone can make use of, not just iPhone users.

      Good point, so we should berate them for setting up all the Gov websites too, as not everyone has access to the internet, and obviously any new road building must be shelved until we can ensure everyone has a car!

      I'd say it's just the BBC looking for news on a slow news day. See also the sh1tstorm they whipped up about some Gov Dept [bbc.co.uk] screwing up a list of which schools were going to lose their rebuilding funds - some apparently were told they were safe and weren't so the BBC went and interviewed headmaste

  • no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Threni (635302) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:45AM (#32836172)

    it's bad to waste money doing iphone apps when you could save money and do a website which people other then iphone users can use. Why no do android apps too? What about blackberry, symbian etc? max? linux? pc? Yes, it's a waste of money because most people haven't got an iphone, android phome, mac etc etc. Some people have a pc, and they probably have an internet connection, so a website will do. It's the BBC - they make/show tv shows.

    • by Burnhard (1031106)
      Our Government are also cutting back on websites too. They spend £100,000,000 on them, including this little gem [lovechips.co.uk] . If you want a good example of a culture of profligacy with public money, which has resulted in the largest deficit in the EU (and one of the largest in the world) then I think this is it!
  • with massive cuts on the way, each ministry is frantically pointing out where cuts can be made in other ministries... and it doesn't help that beancounters can only see direct savings by cutting things... savings through efficiency are harder to measure... even worse, they find it hard to contemplate spending money somewhere to actually save because people are able to take advantage of the apps and not have to waste time making a face-to-face appointment which requires having people employed to handle
  • hmmmmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:46AM (#32836178)

    Isn't it more that some people have suggested that making applications for unemployed people, that only run on phones costing 40 pounds (70$) a month is a bit poorly targeted. And that perhaps making websites for renewing car tax etc is more efficient than making apps that only run on a tiny minority of people's phones (any phone that can run an app can use the website.)

    Why on earth does the government need to spend loads of money making things slightly more convenient for a tiny minority of nerds and rich tech hipsters, when these people are perfectly able to use the existing websites.

    Sent from my phone, obviously!

    • It's stimulus, obviously. Since any money spent by the government on any project creates jobs and increases demand (people who work also spend) and improves the economy, it is obviously for the greater good. When will brits realize that? [/sarcasm]
      • by TheKidWho (705796)

        By putting those developers to work you create something of value which would not have exist before.. The problem with government is that they are usually terrible at predicting the markets which makes them inefficient compared to a free market.

    • >applications for unemployed people, that only run on phones costing 40 pounds (70$) a month is a bit poorly targeted. Look down any UK High Street and you'll see swarms of 'unemployed' people with their pet dogs (the sort that are always in the press for killing kids) and iPhones. Usually a clutch of the latest Xbox games they've just aquiried to play on their big flat screen TVs too.
      I know some people genuinely struggle on benefits but a great many do very nicely although I don't expect they're exactl
  • Wasteful (Score:3, Insightful)

    by epp_b (944299) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:48AM (#32836184)
    I would argue that this is wasteful on the basis that the vast majority of iPhone apps are made redundant by a web browser, for which forms and other online software can be written more quickly and efficiently, and also be available to a far greater user base.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by IBBoard (1128019)

      Maybe the web can replace a lot of apps, but it can't have completely pointless flashy bling widgets quite as easily as an iPhone. It also isn't quite as "teh coolz" to say "I wrote a web app" as "I designed an iPhone app - now there's an app for that!".

      Obviously the UK government just want to be "down wid it" (whatever "it" it is that they're supposed to be "down wid") and waste our money on tailored apps for one specific proprietary (and expensive) platform rather than design something accessible to all f

      • by Psaakyrn (838406)

        "Maybe the web can replace a lot of apps, but it can't have completely pointless flashy bling widgets quite as easily as an iPhone."

        Nothing is more "completely pointless flashy bling" than Flash.

    • Exactly. If it doesn't use the camera, the GPS, the accelerometer or any other input peripheral, it's not an app.

  • by bool2 (1782642) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:52AM (#32836198) Homepage
    "...and was shocked that people would believe it to be unseemly and even objectionable that a government was using modern technology to help its citizens in noble tasks like avoiding becoming roadkill when their motorocycles break down or keep track of potential jobs without being stuck at home all day -- the very things you'd want government to do with your tax dollars" I can't imagine why anyone would object to spending £10000 on an app to make a flashing light. And I have to wonder how many unemployed people who own an expensive iPhone will be using government jobs websites... Lets face facts here. The iPhone is a heavily locked down platform run by control freaks in California and owned by a very small percentage of the population. Tell me again why should my tax go towards supporting that platform?
  • by Christianson (1036710) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @03:00AM (#32836222)
    The issue here isn't that there's iPhone apps being developed during a recession, it's that money is being invested in a duplication of services when the government is looking to slash spending by up to 40% [bbc.co.uk] across the board. When we're looking at a devastation of public services, it's hard to condone spending intended to benefit a minority of Britons with access to a luxury device.
  • HTML5? (Score:3, Informative)

    by exomondo (1725132) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @03:02AM (#32836236)
    With the capabilities of HTML5 you'd think they'd do webapps instead of platform-specific ones.
  • by ILuvRamen (1026668) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @03:08AM (#32836260)
    They sort of buried the lead. It's not "the latest technology," it's an iPhone. Programming a government anything for an Apple product is extremely unfair and insulting to people smart enough to use something better from another company.
    • "Better" for some. The fact that you prefer one brand or piece of tech over another does not make you smarter - it's just your opinion.

      All other considerations aside, there's a good reason why iPhone is the target platform for lots of applications: It was the first phone to pull off a mobile computing platform. Yes, Android phones, Blackberry phones (and more) are lovely too, but to be honest, I think developing for iPhone is the mobile equivalent of developing for Windows: It's the platform where there's t

      • by Superken7 (893292)

        1. windows has a LOT more marketshare than the iphone does, plus there is not yet a clear winner in the mobile market.
        2. Even if you must say so, BBs are still the "windows of the smarpthone". At least in most countries in the world, I honestly don't know about the UK right now.
        3. I do not agree with the idea of the goverment developing windows-only software (with my taxes), especially when there is a perfectly good multiplatform alternative. You should not be required to pay and use a propietary, vendor-sp

  • Heaven forbid a government finding new and innovative ways to deliver services to its people. Maybe the iPhone is not the best platform, but at least they are trying.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by julesh (229690)

      Heaven forbid a government finding new and innovative ways to deliver services to its people. Maybe the iPhone is not the best platform, but at least they are trying.

      They're failing. Over three times as many people in the UK have smartphones that run Symbian than iPhones. Probably somewhere in the region of 50% more have Blackberries. Yet neither of these platforms were targetted, despite the obvious fact that an application for either of these would be much more useful. Why? I'd guess it's because it'

  • For the uneducated masses to understand how government works, they first got to get it through their thick skulls that there is no such thing as the government.

    It is not Number 10, or the White House and it is not the IRS. Instead you have a huge pile of loosely connected organisations and individuals who might in some part be funded with tax-payers money and get their instructions probably in some way from elected officials... but think about it. Just how often does the IRS need to talk to the president (

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Everyone can access the web? No they can't.

      What proportion of people have an I phone?

      What propostion of people can access the web?

      Not everyone and therefor by the logic that since not everyone has an iPhone no iPhone apps should be developed, the government should also develop no websites.

      It would very much appear that you are in no position to be leturing the rest of slashdot about logic.

  • it is an independent corporation funded by the licence fee.
  • WTF should Britain be spending money on iphone apps? Using their apparent rejection of iphone as the one true future as proof of Britain's technology illiteracy is ridiculous. This smacks of Steve Jobs worship and/or extreme stupidity. (Is the author aware of the current political sphere around funding in Britain atm?)
  • What you have to understand is that the majority of the UK newspapers, in readership terms, are controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who sees the BBC as a dangerous rival to his ambitions to control British television. So basically any time the BBC does anything that costs money, his papers jump on it for wasting taxpayer funds. (Mind you, they do walk into some of these things - take the millions they spent on propaganda for digital pay TV).
  • by obarthelemy (160321) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @05:46AM (#32836968)

    - iPhones are proprietary. Unless the Gov supports other platforms (Android, RIM, WinMob, Symbian), it is unfair to support just one.
    - Could not the same results be achieved with a web-only (intrinsically multi-platform) app ?
    - is the stuff that important that it MUST be available on a mobile (I should RTFA, maybe...)

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