Transport for London on Apps vs. Websites and APIs

A recurring question is whether to have a mobile app, or a mobile friendly website or both. The view from the Government Digital Service is that the most important thing is to have a mobile friendly website using responsive design.

“Stand-alone mobile apps will only be considered once the core web service works well on mobile devices, and if specifically agreed with the Cabinet Office.and only to approve use of apps”.

Similarly, Transport for London (TFL) have recently posted about how they haven’t created apps, but instead have a mobile friendly website and also make their data available using APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). These APIs allow TFL’s data to be used by private companies and individuals who have created over 200 apps using this data; much more than TFL would have had the resources or inclination to create.

They’ve followed the principles of open data:

“Why open data?
• It’s public data – as a public body, our data is publically owned.
• To extend reach – ensuring as many people as possible have the widest possible access to travel information.
• For best use of the transport network – enabling choice of the most effective journeys.
• Economic benefit – the small companies who make apps with our data generate highly skilled jobs and wealth.
• Innovation – thousands of developers work on designing and building apps with our data, meaning great innovation emerges”

TFL acknowledge that the private sector will cherry-pick the easiest and most profitable apps, so they then use their website to provide a fully comprehensive set of information that is available to anyone with a web-browser, regardless of whether they have a smartphone or not.

This combination of open data via APIs to encourage private sector innovation and a comprehensive mobile friendly website to provide an overall service to all users seems like a pragmatic approach, is in keeping with the Government mobile strategy and hopefully provides food for thought for public sector (and indeed all large organisations where the ‘crowd’ will help to create innovative apps) when creating their own mobile strategies.