An iPad 2 displaying what users see when trying to access information from the city's website on an Apple device.

An iPad 2 displaying what users see when trying to access information from the city's website on an Apple device.

iPhone incompatibility on City of Prince Rupert’s website becomes budget issue

Council goes to budget process armed with solid numbers on how much fixing the city's website incompatibility with Apple devices will cost.

City council has decided to add a possible overhaul of the City of Prince Rupert’s website to the long, long list of projects to consider when they draw up the municipal budget next month.

The city’s website uses a program called Adobe Flash to create its interactive, animated menus. The problem is that while conventional PC’s and laptops have no problem with flash website elements, the program is not supported on mobile devices created by Apple.

This means no one with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch can access anything on the city’s website using those devices; devices that are dominating the smart phone and tablet computer markets. When the website is accessed on one of these, all you see is the website background and message telling you to download a Flash plug-in, which is essentially impossible to do on an Apple device unless you jail-break it, which voids the warranty.

The council last looked at this issue in January after councillor Jennifer Rice raised the issue in council. City staff produced some ballpark estimates for fixing the problem that ranged from $10,000 to have the flash elements replaced with Apple-friendly HTML5 (a free-to-use programming language which is gaining popularity in the technology world due in no small part to Apple’s decision to not support flash in order to promote its use) to $50,000 for a complete rebuilding of the city’s six-year-old website.

During that meeting some councillors (some of who are Apple device users themselves) indicated that it was important to keep the website up to date with changes on the web and in technology. Other councillors felt that it was a lot of money to fix a problem few people in Prince Rupert experience.

Council asked city staff to contact website development companies to see what their options are and solid quotes on how much it would cost the city. On Monday night, staff came back with the information.

City staff contacted six different web developers, mostly based in the Lower Mainland, but also one company based in Smithers, and came back to council with four different options.

The first is just a fix of the Flash issue, by simply removing the Flash elements and replacing them with identical ones using HTML5. The website would be effectively unchanged except now it would be compatible with Apple devices. The quotes staff got for this option were $9,120 and $12,150.

The advantage to this option is that it’s the cheapest, and it would fix the problem. The downside is that in Internet terms the city’s website is already quite old and doesn’t take advantage of any of the modern innovations on the net, like social media.

The second option is to give the website a graphical “face-lift” where a new mobile-friendly layout would be designed complete with some some light social media integration with all the old website’s content moved over to the new one. The quotes the city got for this option were $17,240 and $18,699.

The disadvantage to this option is that it would only delay the inevitable. A face-lift would extend the life of the website by a couple years, but eventually the city will still need to put down some big money for a new, modern website before too long. While the interface for the site would be different, everything behind the scenes like the website’s content management system would remain the same and out of date.

Speaking of big money, there’s also option three. This one would be a complete rebuilding of the website from the ground up into a new, cutting edge website. This website would be put together by a high caliber design team and would include a separate site for mobile devices, the website would be focus-group tested to ensure that it’s easy to use, have surveys to gather feedback about the design, include accessibility options for visually impaired users, an advanced content management system for city staff, and smooth integration of both Twitter and Facebook.

The downside to this is the price tag: $47,000, but if council went this route, the website wouldn’t need to be remodelled for several years.

The last option was to leave the question of what to do about the website until the council begins the budgeting process next month. This is option council decided to take, reasoning that it made more sense to get a better handle on how much the city has to spend and what should be given priority before deciding how much they want to put toward the city’s website, if any at all.