The New Taipei City (新北市) Government last year spent NT$4 million (US$136,500) on developing 16 free smartphone applications that would facilitate access to and use of government information and databases.
However, New Taipei City Councilor Chen Wen-chih (陳文治) said he has received several complaints from smartphone users saying they were unable to access the “Land Administration Office E-Service of New Taipei City” app.
In addition, many free apps offered by the city government have a very low usage rate.
Chen called on the New Taipei City Government to improve the service to ensure that the development of apps is not a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Smartphone users are increasingly downloading a variety of software apps to play games, send messages or read online content.
Government authorities are jumping on the bandwagon, hoping to reach and interact with the public by developing free mobile apps.
According to Chen, one government app user said he needed to find information on land administration files and tried to make use of the government e-service app. However, after spending half a day searching, he could not access the app.
Later he was told that the app is not available on Android smartphones: It can only be downloaded using iPhone handsets.
“Why is this government resource available only to specific groups?” he asked.
Chen said his office assistants made inquiries on the issue, and found that among the 16 apps developed by the New Taipei City Government, only the app for tourism information has a high usage rate.
According to released information, the three apps with the lowest rates of usage are: “New Taipei Tube,” for watching digital government news and videos; “E-Counter in Your Palm,” an app for checking tax returns and tax payment information; and “New Taipei Bee Online,” a game-playing and travel information application to publicize New Taipei’s tourist attractions and parks.
The apps have been available to the public for more than a year, but two of the least used apps have only been downloaded by about 500 users.
“These figures are ridiculously low,” Chen said.
Chen said that some apps developed by New Taipei City are very useful, such as the “Medical Genie” app and the “New Taipei iPolice” app, which provide updated information on medical services, law enforcement, other civic services, as well as the locations of hospitals and police stations.
“But there has been little promotion, and too few people know about these apps, so they have not been downloaded often,” Chen said.
He suggested the city use public relations agencies and technology firms to organize a publicity campaign and raise the apps’ public profile.
However, he said bandwidth must be improved and the user interfaces must be enhanced to attract more public interest.
In response, officials acknowledged that the apps’ usage rates are lower than they had expected.
They plan to convene soon to discuss ways to amend the problem, and promote the apps.
Along with “New Taipei Tube,” “E-Counter in Your Palm,” “New Taipei Bee Online,” “Medical Genie” and “New Taipei iPolice,” New Taipei City has since last year released apps titled “One Finger E-Access for Laborers,” “New Taipei Activity News,” “A-Lun Online,” “New Taipei Traveler,” “GoGoFun,” “New Taipei Book City,” “New Taipei Player.”
Officials also conceded that some apps were not supported on the Android operating system, but said they are now addressing this problem.
New Taipei City officials attributed the unpopularity of the apps to inadequate promotion.
In addition, officials said many people still use computers to find information, and downloading information on smartphones has not yet caught on in a big way.
Officials intend to assess the apps with a very low rate of public use to find out if the content and the user interface page need to be updated or changed.