Niche Apps Growing More Popular for Service Delivery

Arkansas data suggests that citizens like smartphone apps that deliver specific services, such as hunting licenses and college applications.

Sportsmen in Arkansas seem to have taken as much of a liking to technology during hunting season as they have to deer, turkey and fish. Usage of the state’s Game Check app, which allows hunters to report hunted game to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission through their smartphones, is up 330 percent from last year’s hunting season, according to e-government provider NIC.

“The adoption has been unbelievable,” said Janet Grard, general manager for the Information Network of Arkansas. The group’s Facebook page has coincidentally taken off, with fans tallying almost 35,000.

Hunters aren’t the only ones who like on-the-go technology. For college students, another segment that’s most quickly embracing mobile apps, usage of a higher education app developed by Arkansas spiked after it was launched in January. With 12 percent of students using the app through their smartphones to check their college applications, financial aid and scholarship statuses, Grard said it’s clear that students want to access their information on the go.

The rapid increase of mobile app usage among two seemingly disparate groups — hunters and students — is yet another piece of evidence that local and state governments will be developing more interest- and need-based apps in the future, said Robert Knapp, executive vice president of NIC. Niche apps like Game Check and Higher Education are really going to take off in the next couple of years, he said.

Conversely general or information-based apps will begin to be phased out as most people want quick location-based information.

The Challenge of Multiple Platforms

However, it’s not quite as simple as just build a single app. As more apps like this are being created to fit different needs, governments are challenged with creating the applications in a way that functions properly across all smartphone operating systems.

Governments, more than any other organization, have to reach a wide audience with few resources, and ensuring that these services are available to all is a top priority, Grard said.

Right now, the navigational component of the Game Catch app is available just through the iPhone, although the mobile version is accessible on all phones.

Grard said she constantly gets requests from citizens to expand the location-specific version to their Androids and BlackBerrys.

Screen size on the iPad and BlackBerry PlayBook has made this task even more challenging, said Grard, in terms of applying different styles to the base code.

Many state governments have already starting building universal smartphone apps with the HTML5 standard.

“We realize it’s very important to tackle this now,” Grard said. “New devices are being introduced every day. You need to make sure you have a style to support that.”


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.
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