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.