Federal Data-based Apps Still A Lightly Populated Landscape

Phone with many application icons

The statistics are familiar: A billion smart phones in use, millions of apps available, tens of billions downloaded, the Apple App Store offering 10,000 apps in the fall of 2008 and more than 700,000 now. According to the web site 148apps.biz, about half of all Apple apps are free, and the bulk of the rest are less than $5. But you can find 34 apps priced at – get this – $999, including one game.

Many of the apps that cost hundreds of dollars fall into the enterprise category. You can get lost in this kind of research, but a site called Most-Expensive describes some of the high priced apps. (It also tells you, you can by a really nice accordion for $30,000.) For example, the mySCADA app at $399.99 gives remote, mobile monitoring and adjustment to industrial controllers in water, refining and other process control industries.

It’s true that the majority of downloads people put on smart phones are free or cheap games. But most of the enterprise software manufacturers publish mobile versions of their main products. SAP, Autodesk, and Adobe are just three that come to mind. Few of these run in the hundreds of dollars. For example, Adobe charges $9.99 for an app that lets you create PDF documents on an Android or iOS device.

This recent IDG Connect article on apps details app trends worldwide, quoting one forecaster as predicting the “death” of the Internet. Notwithstanding the Internet is the medium by which apps and data fueling them is delivered, I think what this quoted pundit really means is that the browser interface may become relatively less important as preference grows for the app approach at both the personal and enterprise level.

Less widely reported is how widely the app phenomenon applies to old-fashioned desktop computing, where the app in some sense originated in what were, and still are, called widgets. Even Apple still maintains a large library of downloadable widgets for Mac users. Most of them are free.

Although government agencies are clearly joining the mobile computing movement, it falls behind industry in offering mobile apps. More properly, agencies have not convinced developers that there’s much of a market for government data-related apps. At least, there’s no way to tell. You’d need to spend hours at the App Store finding such titles. There is no “government” category and you therefore need to hunt through thousands of titles to find any. They do exist, such as “HUD Homes”, a way to find government foreclosure sales.

The Android OS market is somewhat more difficult to search and navigate than the App Store, and it’s even more oriented towards fun ’n’ games. There’s no “government” category here, either. In either place, seeing what is trending and popular, you’d think the United States has become a nation of nitwits ⎯ just my opinion. If you search “federal government” some good things do come up. Examples are a grants application, a mobile version of USA.gov, and a federal travel expense calculator. But these are mixed among thousands of other apps such as “Run Fatty Run” which “pits one large man against Health Care gone mad.”

Federal agencies themselves have built a few apps, maybe 100 or so. But it’s more important that the government market its data to app developers in such a way that they, the developers, see ideas that might be popular.

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About the author

Tom Temin has written 486 posts for Fedinsider.com

Thomas R. Temin - Editor in chief of FedInsider and brings 30 years of publishing experience in media and information technology. Tom is also co-host of The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris, a weekday morning news and talk program on WFED AM 1500 in Washington D.C.

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