Mobile web beats apps for public services, says govt digital guru

Civil servants should optimise online public services for the mobile web before creating native apps, the deputy director of the UK's Government Digital Service wrote yesterday.

"Apps may be transforming gaming and social media, but for utility public services, the ‘making your website adapt really effectively to a range of devices’ approach is currently the better strategy," Tom Loosemore wrote on the GDS blog.

"It allows you to iterate your services much more quickly, minimises any market impact and is far cheaper to support."

"For government services, we believe the costs of developing and maintaining apps will very rarely justify their benefits, especially if the underlying service design is sub-optimal," he added.

"We’re confident that for government services, the mobile web is a winner, both from a user and a cost perspective."

Loosemore said that in response to increasing demand for online services from mobile devices, the government is increasingly incorporating "responsive design", in which websites render differently for different devices, into online services, using HTML5.

The previous version of the government's cross-departmental website,, which had separate desktop and mobile versions, saw about 10% of the total traffic to the site from mobile devices, Loosemore revealed.

The new version,, which was launched in October last year and incorporates responsive design, now receives 25% of its traffic from mobile devices.

From April 2014, the government will require all new or redesigned transactional government services to feature responsive design.

Loosemore presented five questions civil servants should ask before considering designing a native app:

  • Is our web service already designed to be responsive to different screen sizes? If not, why not?
  • What is the user need that only a native/hybrid app can meet?
  • Are there existing native/hybrid apps which already meet this user need?
  • Is our service available to third parties via an API or open data? If not, why not?
  • Does meeting this need justify the lifetime cost of a native or hybrid app?

Ed Reeves

Ed Reeves co-founded Moneypenny with his sister Rachel Clacher in 2000. The company handles more than 9 million calls a year for 7,000 UK businesses and employs almost 400 members of staff. Reeves remains...

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