Mobile Apps

Apps vs. Applications – Does It Matter?

Most user, myself included, often differentiate apps and applications simply by device form factor. Apps were to be used on mobile devices such as a phone or tablet. Applications were the bulkier ones that are only used on laptops. However, that is often no longer the consensus. Apps can run on desktops or laptops, and conversely, applications can run on phones.

So what’s really the difference? Here are some key distinctions between the two.


A blog post from Tahoe Partners about a round table discussion at the Gartner Portals, Content and Collaboration Summit held in 2017 highlighted a clear point. According to the post by David Sidwell, the expert roundtable consensus was that the difference mainly concerns their functionality.

App = Software designed for a single purpose and performs a single function.

Application = Software designed to perform a variety of functions.

So for example, the Yahoo! app on a smartphone performs the singular task of opening the Safari browser and directs me to Yahoo’s mobile-optimized website. Once on their website, I have access to the Yahoo! application, where I perform lots of different functions from searching the Internet to accessing my email.

However, form factor can play an important role. As one of our super-smart TrackVia mobile engineers pointed out to me, many “apps” today leverage a key piece of technology that’s unique to a mobile device or just more natural to use with a phone or tablet. For example, TrackVia’s mobile app is optimized to take advantage of key components of mobile devices.


Another popular way of distinguishing apps vs. applications is in its value. Some suggest that apps just feel less valuable — disposable even. If an app doesn’t work or becomes redundant, the user easily deletes it. But if an application doesn’t work, life usually gets a little challenging.

Apps = If an app stops working, you sulk, but life still carries on.

Applications = If your application stops working, your work is likely to stop as well.

Revisiting the Yahoo! example, if the Yahoo! app (that opens my browser and takes me to their mobile site) stops working, I can easily open Safari on my phone and type in Yahoo!’s URL. While it is less convenient, I can still carry on with my intended task. But if Yahoo!’s website and application both go down, I lose both my ability to search and check my email — which will stall my progress.

A subtle and subjective distinction is that apps are easily regraded as less valuable, which is why many users expect them to be free or cheap. In a recent report by Gartner, the analyst firm estimated that by 2017, 94.5% of mobile app downloads will be free. Of course, Google is mostly free and millions of users use it for search, email, documents and a half dozen of other important tasks at work and in their personal life. While there are expectations for apps to be free, users usually expect to pay for applications.

Activity Type

Once in a while, you might hear some arguments that state that “apps” are merely outlets of leisure. Frivolous entertainment activities such as games, chatting and sharing with friends, browsing and so forth. Conversely, applications are meant to be tools that people do “real work” with. Tasks such as sending emails, collecting or manipulating data, buying or selling. This may have been true in the past, but the line between the two is becoming increasingly blur.

Why this matter

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why does this matter?” It’s a fair question. As I alluded to earlier, people’s expectations should be one of your greatest concern when it comes to software or technology – be it your own, your employee’s or your customer’s. To have misguided expectations of apps and applications to work similarly might lead up to disappointment, misunderstanding, or just frustration and anger.

While the differentiation between apps vs. applications are still debatable and evolving, it is important to acknowledge and understand what you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s an app or application. Only with a clear use case in mind, you can arrive at a better set of definitions and expectations on the purpose of your app or application.

One thing no doubt, is the crucial role of an app/application to any business idea. For a clearer perspective, you can look for Originally US, an award-winning app development studio in Singapore. A unique factor about them is that design and development are both done in-house, which can give you a better gauge of the time, money and efforts required to realise your next big idea. Hope this helps you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *