DFAT sees value in in-house mobile development

The department is looking at rolling out its Smartraveller iPhone app for other operating systems and devices, with Android a high priority

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says that tapping an internal development team for its Smartraveller iPhone app has helped build in-house skills that will aid the department with future mobile-focussed projects.

“This builds experience and skills in an emerging area of technology and positions us to undertake similar projects in future,” A DFAT spokesperson said.

“From a technical perspective the app represents a step change for the department. Through the development the… app we have proven our capacity to deliver contemporary solutions which harness the potential of mobile devices and keep pace with Australians’ changing expectations for government service delivery.”

The app, which was launched in October 2012, provides location-aware travel advice and information. Users can also receive travel updates, access to Smartraveller content without the need for an Internet connection, and can register and save their travel plans.

Instead of using Objective-C – the language most commonly used for most iOS development – the department used a third-party product to build in the app using frameworks and languages the department's developers are most familiar with (.NET and C#).

This will help reduce the work of porting the app to other mobile platforms, such as Android, the spokesperson said. However, the "relatively fixed set of design parameters" for iPhone apps – screen size and resolution, for example – means that there would still be significant effort in creating an Android version.

An Android edition remains a high priority for the department. The decision to develop for the iPhone first was based on research that showed members of the target audience – travellers and journalists, for example – were heavy users of Apple's smartphones.

“In addition, it was a known single platform where we could verify that mobile Smartraveller met the needs of the public. If changes need to be made, they need only be made on one platform, for a known set of hardware, screen resolution, etc,” the spokesperson said.

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