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  • Sep 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:12pm
NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong government spending millions developing apps that no one downloads

Millions of dollars have gone into creating a wide range of mobile phone applications, but many are not being used, lawmakers say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 3:38am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 12:29pm

Mobile phone applications developed by government departments at a cost of tens of millions of dollars are barely being used, with some attracting as few as just 10 downloads.

The embarrassing news emerged yesterday as lawmakers lambasted the government for not promoting the apps or monitoring their use.

Star among the departments - which spent more than HK$26 million in 2012-13 producing the apps and planned to spend HK$12.9 million more over the following two years - was the Observatory. Its My Observatory app had 3.8 million downloads up until early this year.

Worst was a potentially useful red tide information network offered by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department in January which drew just 10 downloads.

"The biggest problem is that many departments develop apps and forget about them," information technology sector lawmaker Charles Mok said at a special meeting of the Legislative Council Finance Committee. "It's a waste of effort."

People Power lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen said: "Some of those apps cost quite a lot to develop. How can we tell if they are cost-effective?"

The red tide app cost HK$128,000 for its development and first-year maintenance.

Create Hong Kong's Inspiration Sparks HK app cost HK$360,000, but was downloaded just 729 times.

Mok said many of these apps contained interesting information but few people knew about them because of the absence of promotion or marketing.

"If the AFCD had told Steven Ho Chun-yin about the [red tide] app, he could have told his friends and there would be more than 10 downloads," he joked, referring to the lawmaker representing fisheries.

Mok noted that the Leisure and Cultural Services Department had developed a series of five apps about the King Yin Lei mansion that was declared a monument in 2011.

Since the apps' soft launch in December, each had seen only about 30 downloads, the lawmaker said.

"The department manages parks and sports complexes," he said. "They can simply put posters up in the premises."

Although it was hard to set a benchmark for a minimum number of downloads, people would find it hard to accept that an app had only a few hundred users, he said, adding that there should be a co-ordinated effort to promote apps developed by different departments.

The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer has earmarked about HK$9.5 million for its unit to support the development of mobile applications by government departments and bureaus in the three years to 2015.

It should offer them more support, Mok said.

Chief information officer Daniel Lai said his office provided departments with technical assistance. If an app's performance was bad, the office would offer ways of improvement.

Poor performers included the Environment Bureau app for collecting views on waste charges. It cost HK$65,300 to develop but saw only 42 downloads. The Labour and Welfare Bureau's Social Capital Winner cost HK$113,625 and was downloaded 317 times.

Meanwhile, the Observatory scored well again with its My World Weather app's 117,000 downloads.



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This article is now closed to comments

Businesses seem to only want to develop apps because their competitors are doing so. With so many apps to choose from, customers aren't going to download just any app.
What businesses should consider is leveraging native apps that are preinstalled into phones such as iPhone or Samsung. For example, Apple Passbook is a native app that cannot be deleted from the phone.
If a business were to offer Passbook passes for their customers (i.e. coupons, loyalty cards, membership cards, etc) they are able to reach their customers and connect with them WITHOUT the need to develop their own app.
There are providers out there such as Hong Kong based PassKit (PassKit.com) that solves this problem for many businesses who don't have an app or aren't in the process of developing one. They make it easy for businesses to quickly get into their customers' phone.
I hope ICAC is looking into this and find someone guilty otherwise this is extremely embarrassing.
An app that details exactly where every dollar of each taxpayer's money went is in order.
Hong Kong government departments have no clue about marketing communications. Apart from apps that nobody downloads, they also produce hundreds of videos that nobody watches. While private sector companies are concerned about getting the most out of their marketing dollars, government departments waste their annual marketing budgets on useless apps and substandard videos.
...and toe-curlingly embarrassing "public service"announcements...
In my past life, I actually built one of these government websites (won't say which one) and tendered for a second one. Back then, the websites were built because the departments were order to do so, and not necessarily out of the better interest of the user. The primary thinking was to get something out there to say we have a website, no matter the quality.
IMO, there is no need for separate departmental websites, everything should be combined into as few as possible. Mobile apps are the same, unless the function serviced by the app is unique and useful enough as a separate app. This should all be consolidated under a single department.
I know it's all wishful thinking, but it's an idea....
HK government employees have NO sense whatsoever in two domains :
1. technology
2. design/aesthetics (look at housing exterior - looks like ghetto)
Almost every single government website looks like designed by a highschool student. Totally retarded....and shameful.
I wonder who's pocketing all that money...
Having a substantial work experience doing interactive projects for government/estate departments, I feel confident to say: any project that involves design (of any kind), that requires final approval by officials, with very rare exceptions, no matter if it's HK or the US, turns out to become laughable. The HKO app is a very useful one, but not because it is a great execution - it is terrible indeed - but it simply works flawlessly. Stay away from branding and design in general. Hire a professional and listen to her/him. Don't do the opposite.
Most departments do it simply for the sake of doing it without considering the cost and benefit. Take red tide apps as an example, how many people will be interested in this piece of information? I think only a handful of person mainly the fisherman. if they are interested, the more effective way is ask them to provide you an email address or phone number so as to receive text message. Again another example on how our taxpayer's money is wasted.
OK so I just downloaded the Red Tide app (it's a slow workday)... and frankly I believe to be the best Hong Kong red tide app currently available.
I mean, it contains a weekly update on Red Tides (none so far reported. ever.) as well as the functionality to report a red tide smoothly and efficiently. The design and user interface? The designers were clearly told to pretend that they were 15 year olds giving their first ever attempt at software design. Frankly speaking, they nailed it.
Clearly, the next time you're on a boat and chance upon a red tide and think to yourself "my god, what do I do?", just remember... there's an app for that.




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