What Is an App? A Beginner’s Guide

What Is an App
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An app is the shortened name for an application. It can also be referred to as a mobile app. It is a computerized program or software application that has been designed to function on mobile devices such as phones, tablets, and smartwatches.

Originally, apps were created and designed for productivity support such as email, contact databases, and calendar. However, the public yearning for apps triggered a quick expansion into various areas such as mobile games, GPS, or services founded on location, factory automation, tracking of orders, and ticket purchases.

Due to this, there is now the availability of millions of apps. They can generally be installed or downloaded from platforms for application distribution.

This includes platforms that are created and owned by the founders of the mobile operating system. Some of them include the Apple App Store (iOS), Microsoft store (for Windows), and Google Play Store (Android OS).

While some apps are free to download, a good number of others are paid for before download. The profit from the downloads of those paid apps is being split between the application’s creator and the platform distributing the app.

Mobile apps are unlike desktop apps which are solely designed to function on desktop computers. They are also unlike web applications designed to run on mobile web browsers but not compatible with the mobile device.

In 2009, David Pogue, technology columnist, said that smartphones could be given the name app phones, to separate them from earlier and less sophisticated makes of smartphones.

Apps have become a trendy concept in the world of technology, and in 2010, the American Dialect Society listed it as Word of the Year.

Overview of apps

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An overwhelming majority of current mobile devices are sold with several pre-installed applications. Apps such as web browser, email, calendar, maps, music app, streaming app, and other apps are generally included on today’s smartphones.

Some of these pre-installed apps can be uninstalled through the normal process, creating more storage space. If the software does not permit this, the unwanted apps can be removed by rooting the device. Apps that aren’t pre-installed in the phones you purchased can be accessed via app distribution platforms called applications store.

In 2008, they began emerging, and they are run by the creator or owner of the mobile operating system. Aside from the primary app stores earlier mentioned, there are also BlackBerry World and Windows Phone Store.

Independent application stores such as GetJar, F-Droid, and Cydia are also available. Like the platforms or stores owned by mobile operating systems, these stores also have free apps and paid apps.

These apps are usually downloaded from the platform to a mobile device but sometimes can be downloaded to desktops and laptops. When it comes to apps with price tags, it is usually between 20-30% that goes to the distribution provider; the remaining goes to the app’s developer.

A single app can have different prices on different app stores. Applications can be installed through a manual process such as running an Android app package on Android devices.

Mobile applications were initially intended for general productivity and retrieval of information, including the stock market, contacts, email, calendar, and weather information.

However, the supply of developer tools and demand from the public triggered swift expansion into other areas such as those handled by desktop application software packages. Similar to other software, the boom in the amount and assortment of applications made discovery challenging. 

This resulted in the creation of a broad range of reviews, curation sources, appraisals, magazines, committed online services for app-discovery and blogs. In 2014, the government regulatory bodies commenced the attempts to curate and regulate applications, especially medical applications.

Several companies give apps as a second method to convey the content with specific advantages over an official web address.

Due to the advancing number of mobile apps available and accessible via app stores, and the enhanced functionalities of smartphones, the rate of downloads to mobile devices has steadily increased. The usage of mobile applications has become more dominant among users of mobile devices.

In May 2012, a ComScore study reported that an increased number of mobile subscribers made use of mobile apps than web applications on their devices during the previous quarter.

The ratio of mobile apps to web apps was 51.1%: 49.8%. Researchers discovered that the utilization of mobile applications is in strong correspondence to user context and is dependent on the time of the day and the user’s location.

The mobile applications function in an increasingly essential role within healthcare when programmed and can offer numerous benefits when integrated accurately. Gartner, a market research company, speculated that about 102 billion apps would be downloaded in 2013.

An overwhelming 91% of these apps would be free apps; it was projected that the total downloads would rake in $26 billion in the U.S.A. That is about 44.4% growth on last year’s $18 billion revenue from apps. In the second quarter of 2015, the Google Play Store and Apple stores made about $5 billion.

The analyst report estimates that the app-based economy generates an income of more than $10 billion annually within the European Union. Over 529,000 jobs have also been developed in about 28 states belonging to the European Union due to the app market’s development.

Categories or types of apps

Applications can be categorised using multiple methods. A common approach is to differentiate native, web-based and hybrid apps:

Native apps

Native apps can be defined as a kind of app that is intended for a specific mobile platform. An app targeted, designed, or intended for an Apple device does not function in Android devices.

This is the crucial reason why multiple businesses create or produce apps that can operate on different platforms.

During the manufacturing and design of native apps, experts integrate top-class modules for the user interface.

This is responsible for enhanced performance, consistency, and a good experience for the device user. Users tend to benefit from broader access to app programming interfaces and enjoy limitless utilization of all apps from that specific device.

Moreover, they also move from one app to the other with significant ease. The primary purpose of developing or producing such an app is to ensure the best possible performance for a particular mobile operating system.

Web-based apps

A web-based application is programmed and coded in HTML5, JavaScript, or CSS. It requires an internet connection to be experienced by the user and function adequately. This group of apps tends to take up the minimum amount of storage space in user devices.

They take up the least amount of space compared to other apps: native and hybrid apps. Users can collect their desired data from any device via the internet since all personal databases are stored on the internet servers.

Hybrid apps

The hybrid app, like the name denotes, is a combination of the native and web-based app. They are developed using Apache Cordova, React Native, Xamarin, Sencha Touch, and other related technology.

They were designed and manufactured to aid web and native technologies across several platforms. Furthermore, these apps are developed quicker and easier. It requires the utilization of a single code base that works in various mobile operating systems.

However, these advantages do not prevent hybrid apps from displaying an inferior performance. This is because these apps often fail to carry an identical look-and-feel in multiple mobile operating systems.

App development

The development of applications for mobile devices involves the consideration of the device constrictions and specifications. Mobile devices are battery-based; thus, they possess less powerful processors than those of desktops and laptops. They also contain a more significant number of features, such as cameras and location detectors.

App developers tend to look into various screen sizes, hardware specs, and settings due to the heated rivalry in mobile software.

The development of mobile apps involves the utilization of specialized and incorporated development environments. These apps are first experimented within the development environment via emulators use, subsequently via field testing.

These emulators offer an affordable way to experiment with mobile device applications, which the app developers may not be physically accessible.

The mobile user interface (UI) design is also essential as it has to consider several factors. Such factors include contexts and constraints, input, screen, and mobility as design outlines.

The mobile user is often the center of interactivity with their device, and the interface is made up of both the software and hardware components.

The input of the user permits them to manipulate the system. In contrast, the user’s output enables the system to detect the effects of the user’s manipulation.

The constrictions concerning the user interface design include form factors, such as the proportion of the device’s screen size to the user’s palm and limited attention.

The user interface contexts indicate cues from the user’s activity, such as scheduling and location, which can be shown from the user’s interactions within the app. At the bottom of it all, the UI design’s primary aim is a relatable, user-friendly interface.

The user interface also referred to as front-ends, depends on mobile backends to support enterprise systems access or entry. Mobile backends enable data routing, verification, security, authorization, service rendition, and working real-time.

This capability is supported by a combination of middleware components, including servers of the mobile app, SOA infrastructure, and mobile backend as a service (MBaaS). The interactional interfaces exhibit the computer interface and the current interactions via textual content rather than graphic elements.

They imitate real human interactions, and the two primary interactive interfaces include voice assistants, such as Amazon Echo and chatbots. Interactive interfaces are becoming very practical as users are beginning to feel overwhelmed with mobile applications.

This is referred to as app fatigue. David Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices, said in an interview with Bloomberg, we believe the next platform is voice.

App distribution

The three largest and major application stores are Google Play for Android, App Store for iOS, and Microsoft Store for Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, and Xbox One. A host of other application stores are not as large or popular as the three mentioned above.

These stores include Amazon Appstore, Opera mobile store, Ovi Store, BlackBerry World, F Droid, Electronic app wrapper, Samsung Apps, and Windows Phone Store.

Google play

Google play store was formerly referred to as the Android market. It is an international virtual software store that was developed and created by Google for Android devices.  It launched in 2008 and has since witnessed an ever-increasing growth.

In 2013, the number of application downloads through the Google Play store exceeded 50 billion from an array of 1 million apps. In 2016, Statista claimed that the number of apps available for download surpassed 2.4 million.

An overwhelming majority (Over 80%) of the applications in this app store are free. In 2015, this app store churned an income of $6 billion.

Apple store

The Apple App store wasn’t the first app distribution platform to be established, but it triggered the mobile revolution. It launched in 2008, and 8 years later in 2016, it reportedly had an astonishing 140 billion downloads. The initial app store was first exhibited by Jesse Tayler at NeXTWorld Expo to Steve Jobs in 1993.

In June 2011, available apps on the platform numbered up to 425,000 which has been downloaded by iOS users numbering up to 200 million. In 2012, during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Tim Cook announced 650,000 apps available for downloads. He also announced that the store has a record of total downloads numbering up to 30 billion from 2008 – 2012.

From a different angle, figures viewed in July 2013 by the BBC, from tracking firm, Adeven showed that a majority of apps in the stores are zombies. This means they are rarely downloaded or installed by consumers or users.

Microsoft store

Microsoft store was formerly called the Windows store. Microsoft launched it in 2012 because of it’s Windows 8 and Windows RT platforms. It can also convey listings for traditional desktop programs verified for being compatible with Windows 8.

It was mainly used to distribute Windows Store apps, primarily designed and manufactured to operate on tablets and other touchscreen devices. These apps could also be used alongside a keyboard and mouse, and on personal computers.

Amazon Appstore

This is another option for Android users seeking apps to download or install. It was launched in 2012, and in 2015, the availability of apps grew to roughly 334,000. This store’s Android apps can also be installed and operated on Blackberry 10 devices.

Blackberry world

BlackBerry World is the mobile app platform for BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry OS devices. It launched in April 2009 as BlackBerry App World.

Ovi (Nokia) store

Ovi store for Nokia phones was introduced internationally in May 2009. Two years after its launch, Nokia revealed plans to rebrand its Ovi product line under the umbrella of the Nokia brand.

Ovi Store was then called Nokia Store in October 2011. Nokia Store stopped permitting app developers from publishing new apps or app updates for its legacy Symbian and MeeGo operating systems from January 2014.

Windows phone store

Microsoft launched the Windows Phone Store because of its Windows Phone platform, which was established in October 2010. Two years from launch, it had availability of over 120,000 apps.

Samsung apps

Samsung Apps was launched in September 2009. Over two years later, Samsung Apps achieved 10 million total downloads. The store is pervasive as it is available in 125 countries. It also offers apps for Windows Mobile, Android, and Bada platforms.

The electric app wrapper

The electronic app wrapper was the first electronic distribution service to make encryption and purchasing electronic jointly.


It is a free and open Source Android app archive.

Opera mobile store

Opera Mobile Store is an independent app store for multiple mobile operating systems: iOS, Java, Blackberry, Windows, Android, and Symbian. It was introduced in 2011.

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