It has been a busy fortnight for smartphone app releases across the public sector, with the nation’s governments releasing products ranging from natural disaster information apps all the way to virtual tour guides.
With the world’s second highest rate of smartphone usage and an average of 25 apps downloaded for every Australian mobile device, Australian governments are now responding to this expanding platform for service delivery.
“The take-up of smartphone technology has grown rapidly in Australia in the last 12 months and it is expected that by 2013 more people will access the internet via a mobile devices than via desktop computers,” said the then Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, in a media release.
Last week, McClelland released the Bureau of Meteorology’s Disaster Watch app, which aims to provide users with public information regarding natural disasters via direct feeds from a range of government sources.
“The Government saw developing this product as a priority given the growth of this market particularly among younger Australians and an increasing reliance on the internet and social-media for information,” said McClelland.
The NSW Government has also released a Transport Information app, part of a push by the new administration to take advantage of mobile service delivery to reach its constituents.
“We recognise that people are increasingly relying on mobile devices to get the information that they need,” said Barry O’Farrell during his CeBIT address in May 2011.
In November 2011, Transport for NSW released the NSW Transport Info 131500 app for both the iOS and Android platforms. Using existing timetable and travel information on the NSW Transport Info website, the app suggests a number of possible trips via NSW trains, buses and ferries for NSW commuters using GPS technology to locate the user and direct them to nearest service.
However, the app does not deploy the real-time arrival forecasting capability of the former Roads and Traffic Authority’s Public Transport Information and Priority System (PTIPS), which uses satellite positioning systems to locate buses as they service their routes.
Commuters must still rely on the text-message-based ‘Next Bus’ service to access arrival predictions based on this real-time data.
This hasn’t stopped the NSW Transport Info app from being well received by NSW commuters, however, with the app’s current customer user rating via iTunes standing at four out of five stars.
Victoria’s Play Melbourne app was also released last week. It utilises augmented reality, interactive maps and images to direct and encourage tourists to visit Victorian bars, restaurants, shops and other places of interest.
Also in Victoria, VicRoads has launched its Road Closures and Traffic Alerts website, a smartphone-friendly real-time interactive map which shows all current state road closures and major traffic alerts caused by vehicle accidents, roadwork and natural disasters such as floods and fires.
The Federal Government’s Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) also saw the release of its own iOS application last week, called Weeds: The Ute Guide.The app comprises of a photographic database of a variety of dangerous weeds at different stages of their growth.
“Most grain growers carry a mobile phone with them wherever they go so the GRDC is adapting its information resources to enable growers to have ready access to data and facts when that information is needed most,” said GRDC Regional Grower Services’ Manager of Delivery Platforms, Tom McCue.
As smartphone use continues to rise in Australia, pressure will build on service delivery oriented agencies to develop mobile-friendly versions of their websites.
As yet none of the popular websites of client oriented Federal agencies, such as the Department of Human Services, the Australian Tax Office or the Bureau of Meteorology have moved to mobile formats.
All of the above applications are available to Australian smartphone users for free.