By Mark Henricks
“I” before “e” -- but not by much. The first apps for Apple’s iPad appeared the same day as the much-touted tablet computer, instantly laying to rest the question of whether government IT would find a use for the device. Questions remain, however, as to whether that use will be dominant -- or even significant -- or whether the iPad will be an e-government also-ran.
Government IT supplier NIC’s initial foray into the iPad consisted of five apps in a single niche: interactive driver license practice tests. The five apps consist of practice routines targeted toward the written driver’s license tests in Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia. The free apps, available online through Apple’s iPad store, are intended to help beginning drivers bone up on rules of the road before putting pencil to paper on written exams.
Driver’s license test practice apps would finish well back in the pack in any race based on sex appeal, certainly. However, NIC has a track record of delivering gotta-have software on Apple platforms. Specifically, its “Most Wanted” app, which delivers the FBI’s list of top fugitives to iPhones and iPads, appears on many reviewers’ recommended lists and, according to NIC, has been downloaded more than 760,000 times.
The driver’s license apps have a long way to go to match that. And, according to NIC’s report on their early popularity -- a paltry 300 or so downloads in the first few days after iPads went on sale -- they probably won’t. But these apps do at least represent the beginning of a wedge that could put e-government in the hands of tech-savvy young consumers, who represent the bulk of iPad early adopters and who also, in their very youngest incarnations, presumably want to learn to drive.
Will the iPad attract additional e-government-related apps and uses? Perhaps. The platform wins kudos for its inimitably Apple ease of use, its superb touchscreen, long battery life, light weight, and finely tuned ability to let users read electronic documents and otherwise consume digital content.
Limitations, however, are numerous. They include lack of printing ability, limited e-mail and lack of Flash support, meaning many Web sites will fail to operate properly. The iPad also constricts users with its limited file management ability, lack of a camera and susceptibility to physical damage. None of these, with the possible exception of security-conscious CIOs who would prefer employees not have cameras, helps it appeal to potential government users.
But Apple has a way of making big, new, vibrant markets out of little, old, boring markets. And it may be on the way to doing so again. For its part, NIC says it will be coming out with “many more” iPad apps. And as one of the largest pure plays in government IT -- it contracts with 23 states and hundreds of counties and cities governing nearly 100 million people -- the Olathe, Kansas, company has more at stake in the matter than almost anyone else except Apple.
Perhaps most importantly, NIC already has more than 4,000 e-government applications for other platforms. Experience with past new technologies indicates that support from independent developers well positioned to create compelling applications is one of the most critical for success. With one such substantial developer already behind it to some extent, the iPad is, in this respect at least, looking like something government IT people should pay attention to.
Only registered users can write comments.
Please login or register.