What the Heck is an “App”?

This series is commissioned by UPS.

Recently I spoke at an event and used the word “app” in my remarks.  Afterward, someone approached me and said,  “I enjoyed your talk … but, can you please explain, what is an ‘app’?”

Talk about a reality check!  It was like getting a bucket of cold water in my face.  It was a perfect reminder of a lesson I know to be true and often preach, but in this case didn’t live up to.  That lesson is:  we sometimes throw about the latest tech words that we assume others will know, because we spend much time online and dealing with technology and the words are common to us.  But the general population may still consider words such as “app” to be unintelligible lingo.

In January 2011, the American Dialect Society named “app” the word of the year for 2010.  That action alone says a lot.  Being named word of year signifies that a term is trendy and growing in popularity.  However, just because the use of a word is growing, we shouldn’t assume that everyone knows it — yet.  That’s because being named word of the year also implies that the word is newly prominent.  If the word were utterly commonplace like “dog” or “cat” it wouldn’t have been singled out.  Therefore, we should recognize that not everyone will know the word “app” at this point.

What the Heck is an

So I am going to try to explain what an app is.  The word app is a noun, and it’s short for “application.”  Application in this case refers to a software application — in other words, a software program.

But an app is not just any old software program — it’s a special type of software program.  An app typically refers to software used on a smartphone or mobile device such as the Android, iPhone, BlackBerry or iPad, as in “mobile app” or “iphone app.”  But the  phrase “Web app” or “online app” is also used in a business setting as an abbreviation for “Web application” or “online application” — meaning software that you access and use while online, via a browser, instead of software residing on your computer (such as Microsoft Word).

We could get more esoteric, as this definition does, preferring to think of an app (at least in the sense of an app used on a mobile device) as being a “shortened” or narrow software application, that perhaps does just one function or that provides a small bit of entertainment.  While that definition holds some appeal when referring to mobile devices, it doesn’t really address the word “app” when used in the sense of an online software service.

For small-business purposes, we don’t need to get complicated.  For most of us, it’s sufficient to think an app as being a software program that you use online or on mobile devices.

Now that we’ve got that figured out, the next question you’re probably asking is “why should I care about apps?”  Two good reasons:

(1) Web apps or online apps can be a faster, cheaper, more efficient way of deploying software in your business.  Rather than buying a software license, having to install it on your servers or local computers, keeping up with updates — all of which can be expensive and take time — you can simply go online and sign up for an account.  In a few minutes you are using the software.  And typically you pay a monthly fee, meaning that you don’t have to pay license fee up front.   For more on what you can do with Web applications, read:  How Small Businesses Use Web Apps – and What to Look For.

(2) Mobile apps extend the reach and productivity of your business.  Once you equip your mobile device and/or your employees’ mobile devices with apps, then you and they can perform all sorts of business functions while out of the office traveling, on sales calls, making service calls, etc.  Check out: 10 Ways to Use Mobile Devices to Run Your Business.

So the next time someone bandies about the term “app” you’ll be in the know.  More importantly, perhaps you’ll be in a position to say, “Oh sure, we use all sorts of apps to run our business better.”

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Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

38 Reactions

  1. Martin Lindeskog

    Anita,

    Thanks for a detailed description of the word application. I think that the app market will grow exponential during the years to come. As an example, I have more than 100 apps on my iPhone.

  2. Neal O'Sullivan

    apps – apps …give me a break. I suggest you have a catch in your back yard instead of playing on your phone

  3. To me apps describe any software on mobile devices or any software hosted outside the local machine.

  4. Your description of a web app is synonomous with cloud based software (e.g google docs), which is not what an app is.

    I would describe a web app as a piece of browser specific integrated software that will allow you to access some cloud based software. It allows the software to be more integrated with that specific browser than any old internet link would allow I believe through installing some of the aesthetics on the computer itself while using the internet to run the actual brains of the software.

  5. Good morning, Anita:

    Thank you, THANK you, THANK YOU for my “freshman orientation” – without the beanie!

    As an “e-tarded” person just leaving my own consulting microbusiness and returning to mid-management work in higher education, I needed your easy-to-understand “tutorial” on apps.

    WARNING: I’ll be back.

    Sincerely,

    Tim Allston, APR
    Servant Leader/Director, Public Relations
    Oakwood University
    Huntsville, AL USA

  6. This is a good intro to what an app is. Thanks a lot for taking the time to put this info together for the rest of us. It is very important to be web savvy these days and you have done good work.

  7. Will I be left in the dark if I simply used my laptop only?

  8. Same here Fred except I don’t even have a laptop just a PC.

  9. I am certain that the Queen of England keeps her APPs in her purse.

  10. Jennifer Lawson Zepeda

    Ok…I’m one of those on the trailing edge of technology. And I still don’t understand “app” entirely. For instance, I get that Word is an app that I have on my computer. But is the Facebook I sign into, also an “app?” I’m asking this because I want to buy a Microsoft Surface and they say they don’t have a Facebook app. Does this mean I won’t be able to sign into Facebook any longer? I’m confused.

  11. People throw the word “app” around for everything. That is why it is confusing. I guess they feel important when saying app! I shall still use the word application….I am not to lazy to say the whole word!…..nor do I have to try to be important and a know it all.

  12. so, this just another example of how people assume that everyone knows everything about the modern electrical age-there are plenty who do not and never will be familiar with modern electrical ‘applications’ stuff and the news words and their meanings. but that is ok as they all still know how to talk and write so if there is ever a major power blow out they will be the ones who won’t be panicking..
    the other thing that riles me is the continued use of ‘initials’ that form words and no-one knows what the relevance is to the conversation.

  13. Don’t laugh at me but at times I even wondered if the “APP” was some kind of a device the extends from the IPAD or Anderiod device…like may be a flash disk is to the PC or laptop..But the better part of me suspected it would be an independent soft ware for the mobile and tablet devices…don’t blame me condering on the wide range of applications/purposes it is said to do ..it could sound a little mystic…LOL..i JUST LOVE THE SOUND OF IT

  14. A definition is fine IF you give 3 or 4 examples to follow. It’s still Greek to me without the ‘application,’ which helps clarify. I am wondering why anyone wants or needs 100apps? Give examples of what they are? Like here is an app that gives ‘farting’ noises?? Give practical business examples and the ‘silly’ ones. I am 62 and am wondering what everyone is talking about in the ‘techie’ world, so I seek out competent answers… and appreciate a good teacher using common sense applications.

  15. Thank you for such a great article about what an app is.
    I am a high school teacher and would like your permission to adopt your article into one of my lessons.

  16. How does one determine which “apps” are safe (ie. non-cloud) and which are unsecure and invasive (ie. cloud based applications)?

  17. I think “app” has now gone beyond “software used on a smartphone or mobile device”. It’s now newspeak for what I would call a program in my distant youth, and appears to be completely synonymous with that word. For example, all the software that I can buy and download for my macbook pro is in the Apps section of iTunes – even major utilities we would once slot as a program. I teach and have a lot of contact with teens. I rarely hear the word program used to describe any piece of software anymore, even in reference to word processors, spreadsheets etc, that exist on desktop computers. They are all now labelled apps by my young proteges. A case of rapid language evolution.

  18. I know nothing about “apps” , applications.

    How do you attach them to your phone?
    What will they do for me?
    What is their purpose?

  19. An APP is nothing more than a “shortcut” to me.

  20. I upgraded from Windows XP to 8.0 when my PC died. I want a PC that is just a desk top, no APPS, no Touch screen, etc. Just KISS system. Stuck in Pa.

    • From what I understand 8.1 will let you use just desktop. You may want to do the free upgrade to 8.1. I cannot tell you how to do that. Sorry. Ask a tech savy person.

    • You can disable all the ‘apps’ that come with windows 8.1. You can also download ClassicShell (free) and that program will enable you to make your desktop look like XP, Vista, or Windows 7 so you can get right to work without learning another GUI (graphical user interface)/

  21. Ok. I still don’t know what an app is! I have a smartphone and have 2 ‘apps’ installed on it as no other way I could get these things. But Facebook app etc? I can just browse the internet for it. Or am I missing something here?! I’m no good with anything software related as you can tell and this isn’t in laymans terms enough for me! :(

  22. Thank you Anita for the freshman user friendly 101 introduction. Moving forward, I understand and am confident to communicate with my grandchildren who inherit the legacy of languages that technology presents us.

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