Working with mobile technology
When you build your service, you must make sure it works on mobile devices. To do this, you should explore how mobile technology can help you meet user needs.
Build for a mobile experience
Users expect government services to work on whatever device or browser they choose to use.
Building a web app or website is usually the best way to meet this need. A web app is a service that a user accesses through their browser. To the user, it’s essentially a website.
This means building your service using:
You must also:
Building your service this way means users get the same content and functionality, regardless of how they choose to access your service. It’s also much cheaper and easier to iterate a web app than a native app.
Consider emerging technology for more complex use cases
You should also keep up with new developments, for example the technologies that make up Progressive Web Apps (PWAs).
These technologies make it possible to do things that you could previously only do with ‘native’ apps (standalone apps which users download onto their devices) and ‘hybrid’ apps (web-based apps that are ‘wrapped’ in the user’s native browser).
For example, PWAs allow you to:
- add icons to a phone’s home screen
- send push notifications
- allow users to access your service when they’re offline
- integrate your service with other parts of a user’s phone, like the camera
Using PWAs means your users don’t have to be dependent on an app. You can also maintain and release features as part of your standard service instead of developing and supporting them separately.
Stay up to date
The best way to keep track of what’s happening with PWAs is by using blogs and online information, for example:
- Google’s PWAs site
- Progressive Web Apps: Escaping tabs without losing our soul (blog post)
- Getting started with Progressive Web Apps (blog post)
Roughly 80% of the browsers in most common usage - including all versions of Google Chrome - currently support progressive web apps.
Native or hybrid apps
Native or hybrid apps aren’t usually the best ways to deliver public services.
It’s much cheaper and easier to iterate a responsive website. A responsive website, built to web standards, works on all browsers and devices.
If you build an app, you’ll need to make sure it supports all the various mobile operating systems still in common usage in the place the app will be used. This can be very expensive.
There are also often other ways to solve the issues that lead people to build apps.
For example, you can reduce the impact of poor internet connectivity by using service workers.
Always explore the alternative to using native or hybrid apps – and only build them if you can’t meet the user need in another way.
When to use a native or hybrid app
Occasionally, a native or hybrid app is the only way to meet the user need. For example, you could consider one if:
- the user needs to collect and store data, but won’t have consistent internet access - and a PWA isn’t an option
- the service only works if it has a persistent presence on the user’s device - for example, some apps designed to help the user live a healthier lifestyle
It might also make sense to use a native app if you only need it to work on one device. For instance, if both the following apply:
- you’re building an app for civil servants in your department
- your users all use the same department-issued device
This scenario is very unlikely to occur if you’re building for citizens. And you’ll still need to comply with open standards and the service standard, as well as making sure that your app is fully accessible.
If you’re limited by device functionality
If your native app requires functionality that’s only available on a certain number of devices, then you’ll need to treat the app as a progressive enhancement to your service.
This means offering it to users who’ve got those devices, as it’s the easiest way for them to complete their task. However, you’ll need to provide a means for people who don’t have those devices to complete their task easily.
Share your data and APIs
Even if you identify that a native app is the only way to meet the user need, you shouldn’t necessarily build it yourself.
If you open up your data and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), private sector organisations can use them to build services which complement your service - or, in some cases, take care of the need altogether.
For instance, Transport for London (TfL) opened up its APIs, which allowed some private sector organisations to build widely-used transport apps like Citymapper.
This approach can also work if you identify a need that can’t be met by government. Releasing your data might stimulate the market to create a service that can meet the need.
You may also find these guides useful: