Apple Makes it Harder for Government Apps to Proliferate

In a Medium post, Jennifer Pahlka working at Code for America points out that a new App Store restriction could hurt governments’ ability to create apps. Specifically, cities can no longer have branded apps, unless they create each app from scratch and not share the code base with each other. In this way, government apps will have a harder time serving citizens.

App Store Guidelines

This year Apple has been giving the App Store a facelift. From removing VPN apps in certain countries, and antivirus apps globally, the landscape is changing. A new restriction Apple put into place bans “apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service.” This includes government apps that would otherwise be approved.

Government apps from the City of Calgary in Canada.
Calgary apps

The move has a big impact on cities that create public utility apps. It shifts the relationship that governments have with citizens into the private sector. For example, the City of Calgary in Canada offers apps that are branded with the city. Calgary Transit, Calgary 311, and Calgary Garbage Day are just a few examples. But the App Store restriction means that the city would have to hand over app development to private companies.

Indeed, the City of Jackson, MI recently cancelled the launch of the app in the Apple Store because they were not allowed to use their branding, but would instead have to point their citizens to the company behind their app — in this case CivicPlus.

Since cities can’t share the code for their apps anymore, each app has to be built from scratch. Governments aren’t likely to have dedicated developer teams. Meaning, they used templates or app generation services to make it easier and faster to create apps. But Apple is lumping them in with spam apps. Governments don’t move as fast as corporations do. Apple should have an open dialogue with these cities to find a workaround.

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