What are apps (applications) that we hear so much about? The simple answer is that they are small programs that run on your smartphone or tablet to do a specific job, but this begs the question of why they have become so popular. What can they do that we could not do by a Google search?
Often, nothing. Both work, and the difference is only a matter of convenience. Here is an example:
At least once a day, I check the weather forecast on my tablet. I could use the Internet browser to connect to weather.com or I could use their app that I had downloaded sometime last year. Both will give me the information I want, but getting to their website takes more effort, and the text is unreadable on my little 7-inch tablet screen. If I expand the type, I spend a lot of time scrolling up and down, left and right to see it all. If, instead, I click on their app, the forecast is all arranged and formatted for my tablet. However, this is only possible because I had already downloaded their app, and I would only download the app if I frequently went to their website. Windows 10, Microsoft’s newest operating system, was designed to handle both standard websites and apps. Apps are convenient, but websites are versatile for those once-in-a-lifetime searches.
Some have pointed out that a reliance on apps leads to tunnel vision, but the fact is, most users quickly settle down to routinely checking just a few sources of information, and an app is the most convenient method to get there on a small screen. (And “few” is relative. I have over 150 apps on my tablet. I need to clean house. Some, I have even forgotten what they do.) Apps became popular when more and more people got their information from their smartphones.
A specific app I chose may not present the data I want, or as clearly as I want, but there are perhaps a dozen others I could use. Apps are easily installed and, importantly, easily uninstalled. They are available, mostly for free, from a single website. My tablet runs on the Android operating system, and their thousands of apps are available on the Play Store site. (If I had an iPad, I would go to Apple’s site.) The Play Store is on my tablet, so all I need to do is click on it. I would then search for something like “Weather,” and it would show me a dozen or more available apps. I could easily download and try each one, then delete the ones I don’t want. Most tablet and smartphone users admit they still have many apps they should delete. Many are games they no longer play. They tend to accumulate like dusty boxes in an attic.
The bottom line: The Internet site will have the information you want, but if you go there often, the app, if they have one, will be more convenient. Many of our local TV channels have apps where I can watch their programs. But I could also go onto their website and do the same. (Doctor’s offices often provide free WiFi, so I can watch the TV news while waiting.)
The advantage for the producer of an app is that they can arrange the data exactly as they want you to see it. This is not true on a website. When you read this blog on your desktop or laptop computer, you are most likely to be looking at the the WordPress website, not an app. WordPress arranges the data according to a template I have selected, but I really do not know what you are seeing. Your browser takes the data and formats it however it likes. But virtually all format by the language HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and what I see is often the same, or very close, as what you see, whatever browser you are using, Yahoo, Chrome, or Internet Explorer. Any other browser has to follow the same HTML rules or they would get immediate complaints from their users. All of the data in HTML is tagged for formatting. It was invented in 1980, and has become the universal standard. So, I do know what you are seeing with fair certainty, as long as you are viewing on a regular computer screen. If you are reading this on a small smart phone screen, we may differ.
An app does not have to connect to the Internet. I have an app on my tablet that shows me the charge on the battery, and another that shows the file structure. Neither uses the Internet.
Sometimes it varies. If I choose a standard deal on my downloaded solitaire app, it all works right on my tablet, but if I choose a winning deal, a game that I can always win if I play the cards right, it runs on the Internet. Both look and play exactly the same. I did not even know there was a difference until I tried to play the winning deal away from a WiFi connection.
So if apps are free (mostly) why do they get written? Who pays the freight? Usually they have ads. For a small fee (a couple of dollars or so) you can usually get a “Premium” version without ads—or with other special features. I have an app that shows details about the aircraft in the sky. I paid $1 for icons that match the aircraft shape. Since apps can be downloaded in the millions, $1 from just a portion of the users adds up. Almost all apps require your permission to gather information about you that they can sell to third parties. On the live TV apps, you still have to watch the commercials.
They get their money, one way or another. I kid you not.