What Is an App?

Home & Family, Technology
on December 6, 2011

The terms and lingo used in computer technology seem to change almost daily. The term app has grown in usage and popularity, particularly with the skyrocketing prevalence of smartphones and other portable electronic devices. In general terms, app is short for application, which is essentially another word for a computer software program that is designed for a particular solution or device.

Apps provide a wide variety of functions, including games, personal finance, communication, media viewing, reference sourcing and utilities. A person might have an app that can show the balance of his or her checking account. Right next to that might be a mapping app that gives the person's location, or an app-based version of an online movie database. Essentially, if there is a particular software package or website, there is often an accompanying app.

Basic functions and uses. Overall, the app is designed to perform a specific task or function on an electronic device, such as a smartphone, touchpad or computer. This is obviously similar to traditional computer software, but many apps are more basic and designed for fewer functions. In many cases, this is due to the limited computing power of smartphones or the inability of devices to store a large amount of information. According to the Pew Research Center, app usage is increasingly a source of current information, such as news, for many consumers. However, the trend is also that consumers want to get as much information for free as possible.

Independent contractors. What consumers should know about apps is that the programs are produced by a large number of developers. Therefore, consumers that are used to dealing with major software companies may need to adjust to operations that are less developed and may not have the amenities of a more established company. Granted, smaller companies may have more motivation to make their apps work, so they may be more likely to respond to feedback. In addition, apps are constantly being updated with bug fixes and enhancements, while traditional software programs may have updates that are spread out over time.

Apps for larger devices. Another trend in app development is apps for standard desktop and laptop computers. These are based on the same principles of smartphone apps, but are adapted to a larger screen and more computing power. With apps of this type, users continue to move toward a computer world where standalone software is no longer the norm. Ultimately, the app market is still developing, but it may continue a trend of Internet-based software and cloud-based computing that may eventually end stand-alone computer software.