According to some press reports today the British Prime Minister, David Cameron is to get “his own personalised iPad app” to stay on top of Government business.
Cameron is known to use an iPad to read newspapers and catch up on media generally, as evidenced by this photo taken at a party conference last year. But this report sounds just a little like a slow news week combined with some idle chatter over the Christmas party season amongst the Whitehall press gang and the ‘spads’ – insider shorthand for Special Advisers.
Exhibit A: Both reports in The Telegraph and The Times newspapers talk about “Programmers inside the Cabinet Office.”
Now, anyone who knows anything about the Cabinet Office knows that there are precisely zero actual ‘programmers’ in the Cabinet office. A lot of advisers maybe, but not programmers. Update: Correction: there is the quite new “Government Digital Service” under Francis Maude. No news on an iPad app though, as yet, and nothing on their project page. There has of course been the Data.gov.uk project for a while, but this focused on opening up government data.
Exhibit B: The planned app is said to include “real time” news information from Google and Twitter. Well, how can we put this? The best apps for those are the ones provided by those companies. Indeed, Twitter generally frowns on third party client apps, so one doubts this claim stands up.
Exhibit C: Evidence that Cameron users technology has been added to the reports as a way to indicate that he’d use an iPad app for official government business. This evidence includes the fact that he uses email and text messaging. No further comment…
Exhibit D: The app is “expected to be ready by March”. This is a pretty slow app development cycle.
Exhibit E: The app is said to contain the latest data on NHS waiting figures, crime stats, unemployment, etc. All freely available on current department web sites. No app is required for this. Meanwhile, any app that had confidential government briefing papers would have to pass massive security testing. Perhaps this is the reason for the March deadline? Hard to say either way.
Exhibit F: Apparently the idea for the app was inspired by No 10 “advisers visiting the US”. The biggest advisor to do this was Steve Hilton, who took a widely reported trip to Silicon Valley a couple of years ago. Our sources on the matter: “Hilton demands such things on a regular basis.. and is politely ignored for the most part.” That’s not to say it didn’t happen that way, but this is sideline information.
So is this an actual app or simply a secure web page added to the home screen on an iPad? Because frankly that would take less time, cost less and also feed into the government’s own declared position on opening up government data.
As @simond (Whitehall’s first full-time website specialist ) put it: “Either way it would seem to be against current policy.” Why? because the ‘Government Digital Service’ (GDS), has come out against apps in principle as they are ‘proprietary by nature’.
Photo: The Conservative Party
UPDATE: Tom Loosemore, who works with the GDS says “none of us in position to confirm or deny” existence of iPad app.
Update II: GigaOm has sources which say the iPad app may be real.