The best federal mobile apps (and some that need more work)

Popular federal mobile applications designed for the public could use a few tweaks to make them even more engaging and useful, according to a new report from the White Horse Digital Futures Group marketing agency.

The “Mobile Guidelines for Federal Government Agencies” report on Oct. 20 offered detailed reviews of 30 popular federal mobile applications. Report author Will Reese singled out seven of the 30 mobile applications for praise, including The White House, Smithsonian Channel and 9/11 apps, along with National Science Foundation's Science 360, the General Service Administration's USAJobs, USArmy News and Smithsonian's Leafsnap.

Related stories:

Gov 2.0 on the go; agencies hit it big with mobile apps

Smithsonian Mobile strategy aimed at learning

These seven federal mobile applications have identified successfully their strategic users, are offering a core experience and “compelling benefits” to those users, and take full advantage of mobile platforms, the report said.

For example, the 9/11 Memorial application is designed specifically for visitors to the museum and memorial at the site of the attack in New York, with useful information easily available at their fingertips while they are touring the location.

The Science360 application provides a compelling “coffeetable book experience” of multiple science-related photographs that display in a full color on an iPhone or iPad screen, the review said.

But the remainder of the federal consumer-facing applications could use a bit of improvement, or may need to be overhauled or eliminated, the report suggested.

For example, the mobile application showing economic stimulus spending on a map is confusing and may give users the wrong impression, the author wrote.

The user sees multiple dots on a map, with each dot signifying a project. But the images on soon get chaotic, the report suggests.

“On zooming out, the number of dots increases, creating a sense that funded projects exist everywhere. There is little order or priority—$2 million projects appear the same as $20,000 projects—making it hard for a user to know how to sort the information and what to look for in it,” White Horse Digital said in the report. “This confusion creates an impression of random, if not chaotic, expenditure, which is, of course, counter to the government’s aims of appearing effective and accountable.”

Other federal mobile applications that came under criticism in the report included Bureau of Printing and Engraving's EyeNote and Smithsonian's Meanderthal, which authors said were both less sophisticated than commercially-available products; as well as the Smithsonian Collection Guide, which it suggested was too complex and untargeted.

Some of the author’s findings might appear to be based on a casual assessment. For example, the author suggested that the Health and Human Services Department’s My Dietary Supplements (MyDs) mobile application to help individuals track their medical drug intake “seemed irrelevant” and the application should be “tossed.”

However, HHS officials previously have said the MyDs application provides a significant service to individuals who are on multiple drug regimens and need to have their drug information readily at hand at doctors’ appointments.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


  • Congress
    U.S. Capitol (Photo by M DOGAN / Shutterstock)

    Funding bill clears Congress, heads for president's desk

    The $1.3 trillion spending package passed the House of Representatives on March 22 and the Senate in the early hours of March 23. President Trump is expected to sign the bill, securing government funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2018.

  • 2018 Fed 100

    The 2018 Federal 100

    This year's Fed 100 winners show just how much committed and talented individuals can accomplish in federal IT. Read their profiles to learn more!

  • Census
    How tech can save money for 2020 census

    Trump campaign taps census question as a fund-raising tool

    A fundraising email for the Trump-Pence reelection campaign is trying to get supporters behind a controversial change to the census -- asking respondents whether or not they are U.S. citizens.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.