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What exactly is an App anyway?

The term “app” was popularized by Apple when the company created the “App Store” in 2008, a year after the first iPhone was released. As the iPhone and App Store grew in popularity, the term “app” became the standard way to refer to mobile applications.

So now most people think that an app refers to software used on a smartphone or mobile device. But the terms “Web app” and “Online app” are also used quite often as abbreviations for “Web application” and “Online application”.  Besides that there is the category of “Desktop Apps” that contains applications such as of Word, Excel, etc… So, let’s try to find a broader definition that is not constrained to just mobile devices.

The word “app” is an abbreviation for “application”. It’s a software program that can run on a smartphone, tablet, desktop PC, smartwatch or on any other electronic device including virtual reality headsets, smart TVs or even cars. An app can also refer to plugins that can be installed inside other applications (example: Sales force Apps)

Apps can also be categorized from a technological point of view:

  • Web app – stored on a remote server and delivered over the Internet through a browser interface.
  • Native app – has been developed for use on a particular platform or device, the most popular platforms are Android and iOS.
  • Hybrid app – combines elements of both native and Web applications. Hybrid apps are often mentioned in the context of mobile computing.

In the pre-mobile world, software was distributed on floppy disks, CD’s and then later via the internet. Today, almost every platform has a central repository (app store) where its users can download both free and paid apps. Think of the Google Play store, iOS & Mac App Store and the Windows Store for Windows Apps. Apps are also mostly installed automatically when downloaded, which creates a seamless installation process for the user.

So basically it’s important to remember that an “app” can be much more than a program running on your smartphone.