Sources have confirmed that Downing Street is working to build an iPad app specially designed for British Prime Minister David Cameron — and said that, once completed, officials plan to make it available to the public.
The information comes after a report in today’s Times of London, which suggested that programmers were building a specialized app for Cameron — who it calls “an iPad devotee” who uses his tablet to keep on top of the news. The report (which is hidden behind a paywall) suggests that the app will allow Cameron to pull up the latest facts and figures on the country’s performance.
Mr Cameron will be able to see at a glance the latest NHS waiting-list figures, crime statistics, unemployment numbers and myriad other data which, in the short term, could provide quite grim reading.
The idea for the app came from a trip by advisers to the US and will also include “real time” information from Google, Twitter and other news sources.
The news was initially greeted with denial — or at least skepticism. Officials said they could not confirm or deny reports, leaving the BBC looking for confirmation, Meanwhile TechCrunch Europe tried dumping cold water on the story, arguing that it was little more than “idle chatter”.
However, my sources tell me that this is not just a tale cooked up over Christmas tipple — and that the eventual product should be made publicly available as part of the British government’s program to increase transparency.
Preliminary work has been underway “for a couple of months,” I am told, but if the finalized product ever makes the cut it will not be for some time.
Other details remain fuzzy: is it going to be a native iPad app? Possibly, but it would largely rely on public data streams that are already available online. Who is building it? That is not clear — the Cabinet Office does have a digital unit, but the final job will probably be offered out to tender rather than completed in-house.
What is obvious is that most of the pieces of the puzzle are already in place. For the most part it will provide a one-stop shop for existing data, rather providing Cameron a front-end for all his digital communications. That makes the product more like a Downing Street dashboard, rather than a digital equivalent to the famous famous red boxes that British ministers use to carry their documents around, but it would remain groundbreaking in its own way.
It’s no surprise that the news was greeted with skepticism, however. In his attempt to appear dynamic and forward-thinking the Prime Minister has made a sometimes-too concerted effort to align himself with new technologies — particularly his close relationship with Google, and the early push to show off his carefully presented “webCameron” videos on YouTube.
The trouble is, this attitude seems to be wheeled out only when it’s convenient — and gets ditched rapidly whenever the Prime Minister is put under pressure. During the summer, for example, when the rioting in London and other British cities was hitting the news around the world, Cameron said he was considering shutting down access to social networks. (Presumably his own access would remain unimpinged).
More recently, though — perhaps by the desperate state of the British economy — Cameron has returned to wooing the tech community again, softening his stance and resurrecting big data plans that he’d previously killed off. His backing of a new pseudo-governmental body intended to push London as Europe’s leading technology hub, meanwhile, has run into problems of its own. Still, whatever the web says about his administration… at least he’ll be able to read all about it on his iPad.