No iPhone apps, please -- we're British

A BBC report has caused a hailstorm of criticism over government agencies trying to modernize -- has cool Britannia become fool Britannia?

If ignorance is bliss, many in the United Kingdom want to be blissful. At least that's the impression left by a furor in Britain over the shocking revelation that the British government has spent tens of thousands of pounds creating iPhone apps meant for citizens' use, such as an app that shows motorcyclists how to change their wheels and acts as a warning light in case of a breakdown on the road. Another scurrilous app helps the unemployed access the government's job service -- as the BBC article notes, many people say that if the unemployed can afford an iPhone subscription, they need no help in finding a job.

As a result of the controversy, the govenment has halted all its iPhone app development.

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When I first heard about this controversy from an Irish firm, Lagan Technologies, that creates apps for government agencies, I thought it was a joke. Then I read the venerable BBC's news story and was shocked that people would believe it to be unseemly and even objectionable that a government was using modern technology to help its citizens in noble tasks like avoiding becoming roadkill when their motorocycles break down or keep track of potential jobs without being stuck at home all day -- the very things you'd want government to do with your tax dollars.

Apparently not in Britain, a country that not so long ago positioned itself as "cool Britannia," a driver of innovation and entrepreneurship, smugly contrasting itself against those lazy, red-tape-entangled Continentals across the Channel. Apparently, today's Britons -- or at least the ones represented by the BBC's reactionary report -- would prefer to put the future in the past and go even further back to the oh-so-wonderful, manual, uncaring methods of the Dickensian era: fool Britannia.

It's very likely that not all of the government's iPhone apps were well-conceived -- but neither are all of the private sector apps in the App Store. That flaw in the dastardly iPhone investment could have been easily remedied. A worse course comes from the very idea that somehow it is bad for the government to take advantage of modern technologies. Here in the United States, conservatives like to rail at government for not being good enough, then criticizing when it tries to do something. Liberals like to rail at the government for not doing enough, then not worrying about the quality and effectiveness of the work it does do.

I would have thought Britain's new Tory/Lib-Dem government -- a curious right/left alliance -- would have stood up to the crotchety complaints and argued forcefully that it was proud to be doing something innovative for its citizens and of course was evaluating the results in a clear-eyed way. But so far, it's left the poor agencies that dared keep up with the times twisting in the wind.

Still, there's hope. Ireland's vast army of knowledge workers are suffering major unemployment, so maybe the Irish could draft some of them to show Britain how it should be done. Or perhaps the Finns can be convinced to develop iPhone versions of all their decade-old nifty mobile apps (even at risk of offending hometown hero Nokia).

Sarcasm aside, the last thing Britain's government should be doing is ignoring the future because a recession is on. Insted, it should continue in that can-do Anglo-Saxon spirit. What would Winston Churchill say if he were alive today? I'm betting on something like "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength." He certainly wouldn't be afraid to press on.

This article, "Brits criticize iPhone apps, prefer antiquated government," was originally published at Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile computing at


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