The Difference Between Apps and Applications

The market is completely saturated with programs. Competition is thick, discoverability low, and redundancy rampant. Every fool and his grandmother are “building an app.” Companies scribble code together just to say they have one, too. I mean, seriously, why the flying hell would I need a Quiznos app?

The joke? “There is an app for that.” Not funny anymore. Why? Because apps like Virtual Lighter cramp valuable shelf space and bury applications that could otherwise have a profound impact on our culture and way of life. As a user and developer, I want to differentiate between “apps” and “applications” in hopes of quelling the former and promoting the latter:

  • Apps have narrow vision. Applications have boundless vision.
  • Apps tackle singular functions. Applications tackle multiple related functions.
  • Apps debug. Applications scale.
  • Apps live on devices. Applications live beyond devices.
  • Apps breathe task-based missions. Applications breathe mission-based tasks.
  • Apps are features in disguise. Applications are platforms for numerous integrated features.
  • App has three letters. Application has eleven.
  • Apps code quickly and can be completed. Applications continue to adapt and evolve.
  • Apps are popularized by mass use. Applications are commoditized by mass use.
  • Apps eat free time for breakfast. Applications eat apps for breakfast.
  • Apps are useful in defined use cases. Applications are useful in undefined use cases.
  • Apps are built by programmers and designers. Applications are built by communities.

Please contribute to the list and share it with your app junkie neighbor. Support the development of rich and meaningful applications.


3 thoughts on “The Difference Between Apps and Applications

  1. I suspect some of the difference between an application and an app is often the difference between doing sustained useful work, and either 1.) wasting time or 2.) doing one thing once. (Apps like the renowned Angry Birds are pure entertainment, and accomplish nothing. Apps which pay a phone bill do one thing once.)

    The line is blurring, however. Some photo manipulation apps approach the usefulness of applications like Paint.Net. There are IPhone apps which create and edit MS Office documents. There is even an app to write, compile, and run VB.Net code.

    That said…if one needs to create and query an extensible database with gigabytes of data, one should probably be looking at an application and a desktop, not an app and an IPad. And would would be best served to use a comprehensive IDE rather than an app. 😉

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