Apple iPhone App Development Stirs Controversy in England

The British government apparently spent tens of thousands of pounds on developing public-service apps for the iPhone, including one designed to help job-seekers. The spending decision is attracting controversy, given Britain's cash-strapped state. App development remains a key focus of not only Apple, but all smartphone manufacturers seeking to appeal to businesses and consumers.

The British government is now in the business of developing for the iPhone, according to a July 6 BBC News report, which suggested that tens of thousands of British Pounds had been earmarked for apps for everything from travel advice to renewing a driver's license.

According to documents obtained via the BBC's Freedom of Information request, development costs for the apps reached as high as 40,000 British Pounds in some cases, or roughly $60,876. The spending decision is apparently attracting controversy, as the British government had previously vowed to review its spending on Website development and maintenance.

The British government had apparently sponsored, among others, a "Jobcentre Plus app" that helps people seek out new jobs; other apps hadn't yet reached the release stage, with one under development to help drivers renew their licenses-among other car-related tasks-reportedly now on hold. Various government departments, perhaps spooked by the possibility of a public blowback, subsequently told the BBC they had either no intentions of developing iPhone apps, or else very limited plans to do so.

"The government recently announced a freeze on all marketing and advertising spend for this year and this includes iPhone applications," the Cabinet Office told BBC News in a statement. "Future spend on iPhone development will be subject to strict controls: only essential activity, approved by the Efficiency and Reform Group, which is chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will be allowed."

As smartphones increase their market share among the general population, app stores have become a prime focus of those device-makers' efforts; the larger the app store, the logic goes, the more attractive to the consumer looking to install a variety of programs on their smartphone. Apple currently leads the pack, with tens of thousands of apps available through its App Store, although Google's Android Marketplace has made substantial gains among developers.

Simultaneously, both BlackBerry and-before its acquisition by Hewlett-Packard-Palm faced criticism for the relatively small size of their own app stores. Microsoft has already started encouraging developers to create for its upcoming Windows Phone 7 platform.

During Apple's 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference in June, the company focused a substantial portion of its sessions to mobile products. To nobody's great surprise, it also unveiled the iPhone 4, the next-generation smartphone meant to head off challenges from increasingly robust Android devices such as the HTC Evo 4G and the Motorola Droid X. As part of its competitive efforts, Apple is rolling out "iAd," a platform that allows developers to deliver mobile advertisements within apps themselves.

"There is definitely a market for your applications," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told the audience. But if you're the British government, it seems, there's also the possibility for a little backlash.