What is an App?


The word “app” is everywhere these days, and this prompted us to think “what exactly is an app”? Even more significantly, why is everyone adopting this name?  Whatever constitutes an “app” is at the vanguard of the battle for digital supremacy.

Tech behemoths like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other media companies are all touting “apps” for computers, tablets, mobile phones, e-readers, games consoles and TVs. According to Financial Times, in a recent sale of Top-level domain names by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, there was an “intense battle for .app, the most contested domain with 13 applications, including bids from Amazon and Google.”

So the term “app” is a hot property, and at the very least, a popular, catchall moniker that is applied to numerous things in the digital world to gain people’s attention.

Defining an App

Defining exactly what an “app” is proves to be elusive – it certainly applies to software applications, for PCs or phones, but it can equally be an alias for a website or “web app,” or even a TV channel.

While acknowledging that apps generally started life on smartphones and other mobile devices, Anita Campbell of smallbiztrends.com states the broad definition for an “app” is: “A software program that you use online or on mobile devices.”

In Ian Bogost’s blog, he observes that the conception of the “app” is akin to a revolution with the slaying of “old” software giants. “The days of the software office suite are giving way to a new era of individual units [apps], each purpose-built for a specific function… or just as often, for no function at all.”

Commercial Apps

From a commercial point of view “apps” can be monetized or provide a vehicle for companies to leverage advertising revenue. Apple pioneered the “app store” concept, typically selling apps for a few dollars while others were free. There are now hundreds of thousands of apps for phones and desktops from Apple.

Google has something similar with “Google Play,” Microsoft has the “Marketplace” for phone apps, Intel has “AppUp”, and Facebook recently launched the “AppCenter”, the latter of which does not take revenue from the apps downloaded, but rather generates ad revenue from the popular pages on the AppCenter.

Samsung offer apps for their “Smart TV” – albeit they don’t have thousands as of yet, but the emergence of the “app” on TVs is probably the most significant development. On this topic, ft.com comments: “Turning both shows and channels into apps would create a new way for viewers to interact with TV content.” This suggests a new frontier for apps is emerging on TV, or similar connected device, in people’s living rooms.

The Business of Apps

And as a developer why should you care? It may be that you will need to “appify” your software to prosper from this latest trend and to stay ahead of your competition. Some may say, as the Nokia apps store has in the past, that people should ”Think Appy Thoughts” and perhaps we should.


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