What is an app?

For most of you, the question “What is an app?” can certainly be answered quickly. It's a program, a software, an application. Or? This is generally the case, but if you delve a little deeper into the matter, you will find distinctions to other software and examples of the use of the app term that do not come to mind ad hoc when answering the initial question. So today we're going to take a closer look at apps and what they are.

What is an app? Can you use software as a synonym or do you have to differentiate more precisely? What is the German word for apps? All the answers to these and other questions can be found here!
What is an app? Can you use software as a synonym or do you have to differentiate more precisely? What is the German word for apps? All the answers to these and other questions can be found here!

Software is not the same as an app

The term "software" can be used to encompass any code, any collection of working combinations of files and scripts, and much more. operating systems like MacOS, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux and what your washing machines use to recognize and implement the set wash cycle are software, but not apps. Also computer viruses or other malicious software are not necessarily to be described as an app. This may be the case for some - for example, if a keylogger as stalkerware is used. On the whole, however, one must differentiate here.

An app is application software

So an app is a subset in the big, wide world of software. To be precise, it is “application software”. You open an app to do certain tasks with it. Here you can also use terms that were used before the emergence of the umbrella term “app”: application or program. Word, Excel, Photoshop, any web browser, various messengers, the pocket calculator, the virtual chess game, the calendar, the mail client, the PDF reader and the like - these examples are applications, application software and therefore, in short, app. So the answer to the question “What is an app?” is: An app is application software.

Different types of apps at a glance

Now that we have clarified the basic question and classified apps vertically in the software term, we can look horizontally at how apps can still be divided. I am less concerned with the difference between iOS apps and Android apps, Windows apps and macOS apps, etc. More than the functionality in different systems, I mean the following distinction in the general functioning of the programs and applications:

  • App: Generic term for any application software
  • Mobile App: application software on mobile devices (smartphone, tablet)
  • Web Application / Web App: Application program that is executed, graphically displayed and operated in the web browser
  • Progressive Web App (PWA): Combination of web app and mobile app
  • Windows App: Proprietary term for programs that use the "Windows 8 Modern UI".


Summary of the question: What is an app?

Mac programs in the Mac App Store, the mobile applications in the iOS App Store or for Android in the Google Play Store can be referred to as an "app". Application software downloaded from websites and so on can also be called apps. There are also games on the hard drive or in the browser, web apps like those from Google (12 handy tools on the Google search engine) and and and. In summary, one can say again: An app is application software that can be run in an operating system or another program (web browser). The synonymous use of the term "software" is understandable, but not 100% correct. 

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