For Wikipedia's mobile apps, see Help:Mobile access § Applications.
A mobile app is a computer program designed to run on a mobile device such as a phone/tablet or watch.
Mobile applications often stand in contrast to desktop applications that run on desktop computers, and with web applications which run in mobile web browsers rather than directly on the mobile device.
The term "app" is a shortening of the term "software application". It has become very popular, and in 2010 was listed as "Word of the Year" by the American Dialect Society. In 2009, technology columnist David Pogue said that newer smartphones could be nicknamed "app phones" to distinguish them from earlier less-sophisticated smartphones.
Most such devices are sold with several apps bundled as pre-installed software, such as a web browser, email client, calendar, mapping program, and an app for buying music or other media or more apps. Some pre-installed apps can be removed by an ordinary uninstall process, thus leaving more storage space for desired ones. Where the software does not allow this, some devices can be rooted to eliminate the undesired apps.
Apps that are not preinstalled are usually available through distribution platforms called app stores. They began appearing in 2008 and are typically operated by the owner of the mobile operating system, such as the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Phone Store, and BlackBerry App World. However, there are independent app stores, such as Cydia, GetJar and F-Droid. Some apps are free, while others must be bought. Usually, they are downloaded from the platform to a target device, but sometimes they can be downloaded to laptops or desktop computers. For apps with a price, generally a percentage, 20-30%, goes to the distribution provider (such as iTunes), and the rest goes to the producer of the app. The same app can therefore cost a different price depending on the mobile platform.
Apps can also be installed manually, for example by running an Android application package on Android devices.
Mobile apps were originally offered for general productivity and information retrieval, including email, calendar, contacts, stock market and weather information. However, public demand and the availability of developer tools drove rapid expansion into other categories, such as those handled by desktop application software packages. As with other software, the explosion in number and variety of apps made discovery a challenge, which in turn led to the creation of a wide range of review, recommendation, and curation sources, including blogs, magazines, and dedicated online app-discovery services. In 2014 government regulatory agencies began trying to regulate and curate apps, particularly medical apps. Some companies offer apps as an alternative method to deliver content with certain advantages over an official website.
Usage of mobile apps has become increasingly prevalent across mobile phone users. A May 2012 comScore study reported that during the previous quarter, more mobile subscribers used apps than browsed the web on their devices: 51.1% vs. 49.8% respectively. Researchers found that usage of mobile apps strongly correlates with user context and depends on user's location and time of the day. Mobile apps are playing an ever-increasing role within healthcare and when designed and integrated correctly can yield many benefits.
Market research firm Gartner predicted that 102 billion apps would be downloaded in 2013 (91% of them free), which would generate $26 billion in the US, up 44.4% on 2012's US$18 billion. By Q2 2015, the Google Play and Apple stores alone generated $5 billion. An analyst report estimates that the app economy creates revenues of more than €10 billion per year within the European Union, while over 529,000 jobs have been created in 28 EU states due to the growth of the app market.
Main article: Mobile application development
Developing apps for mobile devices requires considering the constraints and features of these devices. Mobile devices run on battery and have less powerful processors than personal computers and also have more features such as location detection and cameras. Developers also have to consider a wide array of screen sizes, hardware specifications and configurations because of intense competition in mobile software and changes within each of the platforms (although these issues can be overcome with mobile device detection).
Mobile application development requires use of specialized integrated development environments. Mobile apps are first tested within the development environment using emulators and later subjected to field testing. Emulators provide an inexpensive way to test applications on mobile phones to which developers may not have physical access.
Mobile user interface (UI) Design is also essential. Mobile UI considers constraints and contexts, screen, input and mobility as outlines for design. The user is often the focus of interaction with their device, and the interface entails components of both hardware and software. User input allows for the users to manipulate a system, and device's output allows the system to indicate the effects of the users' manipulation. Mobile UI design constraints include limited attention and form factors, such as a mobile device's screen size for a user's hand. Mobile UI contexts signal cues from user activity, such as location and scheduling that can be shown from user interactions within a mobile application. Overall, mobile UI design's goal is primarily for an understandable, user-friendly interface.
Mobile UIs, or front-ends, rely on mobile back-ends to support access to enterprise systems. The mobile back-end facilitates data routing, security, authentication, authorization, working off-line, and service orchestration. This functionality is supported by a mix of middleware components including mobile app servers, Mobile Backend as a service (MBaaS), and SOA infrastructure.
Conversational interfaces display the computer interface and present interactions through text instead of graphic elements. They emulate conversations with real humans. There are two main types of conversational interfaces: voice assistants (like the Amazon Echo) and chatbots.
Conversational interfaces are growing particularly practical as users are starting to feel overwhelmed with mobile apps (a term known as "app fatigue").
David Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices, says in an interview with Bloomberg, "We believe the next big platform is voice."
See also: List of mobile software distribution platforms
The three biggest app stores are Google Play for Android, App Store for iOS, and Microsoft Store for Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, and Xbox One.
Main article: Google Play
Google Play (formerly known as the Android Market) is an international online software store developed by Google for Android devices. It opened in October 2008. In July 2013, the number of apps downloaded via the Google Play Store surpassed 50 billion, of the over 1 million apps available. As of September 2016, according to Statista the number of apps available exceeded 2.4 million. The store generated a revenue of 6 billion U.S. dollars in 2015.
Main article: App Store (iOS)
Apple's App Store for iOS was not the first app distribution service, but it ignited the mobile revolution and was opened on July 10, 2008, and as of September 2016, reported over 140 billion downloads. The original AppStore was first demonstrated to Steve Jobs in 1993 by Jesse Tayler at NeXTWorld Expo As of June 6, 2011, there were 425,000 apps available, which had been downloaded by 200 million iOS users. During Apple's 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference, CEO Tim Cook announced that the App Store has 650,000 available apps to download as well as 30 billion apps downloaded from the app store until that date. From an alternative perspective, figures seen in July 2013 by the BBC from tracking service Adeven indicate over two-thirds of apps in the store are "zombies", barely ever installed by consumers.
Main article: Microsoft Store (digital)
Microsoft Store (formerly known as the Windows Store) was introduced by Microsoft in 2012 for its Windows 8 and Windows RT platforms. While it can also carry listings for traditional desktop programs certified for compatibility with Windows 8, it is primarily used to distribute "Windows Store apps"—which are primarily built for use on tablets and other touch-based devices (but can still be used with a keyboard and mouse, and on desktop computers and laptops).
- Amazon Appstore is an alternative application store for the Android operating system. It was opened in March 2011 and as of June 2015, the app store has nearly 334,000 apps. The Amazon Appstore's Android Apps can also be installed and run on BlackBerry 10 devices.
- BlackBerry World is the application store for BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry OS devices. It opened in April 2009 as BlackBerry App World.
- Ovi (Nokia) for Nokia phones was launched internationally in May 2009. In May 2011, Nokia announced plans to rebrand its Ovi product line under the Nokia brand and Ovi Store was renamed Nokia Store in October 2011. Nokia Store will no longer allow developers to publish new apps or app updates for its legacy Symbian and MeeGo operating systems from January 2014.
- Windows Phone Store was introduced by Microsoft for its Windows Phone platform, which was launched in October 2010. As of October 2012[update], it has over 120,000 apps available.
- Samsung Apps was introduced in September 2009. As of October 2011, Samsung Apps reached 10 million downloads. The store is available in 125 countries and it offers apps for Windows Mobile, Android and Bada platforms.
- The Electronic AppWrapper was the first electronic distribution service to collectively provide encryption and purchasing electronically
- F-Droid — Free and open Source Android app repository.
- Opera Mobile Store is a platform independent app store for iOS, Java, BlackBerry OS, Symbian, iOS, and Windows Mobile, and Android based mobile phones. It was launched internationally in March, 2011.
- There are numerous other independent app stores for Android devices.
Main article: Mobile application management
Mobile application management (MAM) describes software and services responsible for provisioning and controlling access to internally developed and commercially available mobile apps used in business settings. The strategy is meant to off-set the security risk of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) work strategy. When an employee brings a personal device into an enterprise setting, mobile application management enables the corporate IT staff to transfer required applications, control access to business data, and remove locally cached business data from the device if it is lost, or when its owner no longer works with the company. Containerization is an alternate BYOD security solution. Rather than controlling an employees entire device, containerization apps create isolated and secure pockets separate from all personal data. Company control of the device only extends to that separate container.
App wrapping vs. native app management
Especially when employees "bring your own device", mobile apps can be a significant security risk for businesses, because they transfer unprotected sensitive data to the Internet without knowledge and consent of the users. Reports of stolen corporate data show how quickly corporate and personal data can fall into the wrong hands. Data theft is not just the loss of confidential information, but makes companies vulnerable to attack and blackmail.
Professional mobile application management helps companies protect their data. One option for securing corporate data is app wrapping. But there also are some disadvantages like copyright infringement or the loss of warranty rights. Functionality, productivity and user experience are particularly limited under app wrapping. The policies of a wrapped app can't be changed. If required, it must be recreated from scratch, adding cost. An app wrapper is a mobile app made wholly from an existing website or platform, with few or no changes made to the underlying application. The "wrapper" is essentially a new management layer that allows developers to set up usage policies appropriate for app use. Examples of these policies include whether or not authentication is required, allowing data to be stored on the device, and enabling/disabling file sharing between users. Because most app wrappers are often websites first, they often do not align with iOS or Android Developer guidelines.
Alternatively, it is possible to offer native apps securely through enterprise mobility management without limiting the native user experience. This enables more flexible IT management as apps can be easily implemented and policies adjusted at any time.
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The Google Play Store is the default app store for most Android phones and tablets. It’s fast, convenient, and usually comes pre-installed.
It’s so ubiquitous, most users probably don’t even realize alternatives are available. But there are alternativesGoogle Play Alternatives For Downloading Android Apps Without FussGoogle Play Alternatives For Downloading Android Apps Without FussMany people think that the Google Play Store is the only option Android users have for downloading apps, but there are actually quite a few quality alternatives out there.Read More — the most well-known and widely-used of which is the Amazon Appstore.
So, how does the Amazon offering compare with the default Google Play Store? Is it worth installing? What unique features does it offer?
Keep reading to find out which of the two stores is better.
What is the Amazon Appstore?
Before diving into the specifics, let’s take a moment to clarify what the Amazon Appstore is.
The store launched in 2011 and is Amazon’s primary way of distributing apps for the Kindle Fire tablet, phone, and streaming box. It comes pre-loaded on those devices.
Because Amazon’s gadgets rely on the Android operating system, the Amazon Appstore also works on Android-based phones and tablets from other manufacturers. It’s not available through the Google Play Store (more on that later), though if you’ve bought an Android phone on the Verizon network in the United States, you might find the Amazon Appstore pre-installed.
Number of Apps
The first thing to consider when comparing any two stores is the number of apps available. You can have the best user experience in the world, but it’s no good if you can’t download the content you want.
The Google Play Store is the clear winner. Estimates suggest the number of apps in the Amazon Appstore hovers around 600,000. In comparison, the Google store has nearly three million potential downloads.
Of course, a huge amount of those three million apps are junk that you’d never want to download, but on raw numbers alone, there’s no contest.
Verdict: An easy and indisputable victory for Google.
Which Apps Are Available?
Many of the most common appsThe Best Android AppsThe Best Android AppsLooking for the best apps for your Android phone or tablet? This is our comprehensive, hand-picked list of the best apps for Android.Read More are accessible on both platforms. These include Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Evernote, LastPass, Trello, Netflix, Spotify, VLC, and countless more. Sadly, YouTube and most other Google apps are not available in the Amazon Appstore.
However, the biggest drawback of the Amazon Appstore is the lack of Google Play Services. For those who aren’t aware, Play Services underpins everything from user authentication and data syncing to privacy settings8 Ways to Stay Private While Using an Android Smartphone8 Ways to Stay Private While Using an Android SmartphoneSmartphones are made to give away a ton of data about you, but you can tweak your smartphone to make it much more private -- and you should.Read More and location services.
Because the Amazon Appstore doesn’t have access to it, most users will not be able to solely rely on the Amazon Appstore on standard Android devices. If you’re using an Amazon Fire device, the problem isn’t as significant; Amazon offers several of its own APIs that provide similar functionality.
Verdict: A narrow victory for the Google Play Store. If you’re happy to leave the Play Store installed on your device merely for access to Play Services, you could argue it’s a draw.
The Google Play Store is about more than just apps. It also offers an extensive book, movie, and music library.
You can buy the books, music, and movies from directly within the Play Store. No additional memberships are required, and in a few clicks you can be enjoying your new media on your device. The Amazon Appstore has a link to the Amazon Video store, but you need a Prime membershipMonthly vs. Annual: Which Amazon Prime Membership Should You Buy?Monthly vs. Annual: Which Amazon Prime Membership Should You Buy?Should you sign up for a monthly or annual subscription to Amazon Prime? We break it down so you make the best choice for your situation.Read More to be able to watch the content.
Verdict: If you want a one-stop app for all your entertainment needs, Google trumps Amazon — but Amazon has a vast array of content for Prime subscribers.
Ease of Installation
As mentioned at the start of the article, the Google Play Store comes pre-installed on most non-Amazon devices. The Amazon Appstore is pre-installed on the company’s own hardware.
If you want to install the Amazon Appstore on a standard Android device, there’s a fiddly process to work through.
How to Install the Amazon Appstore
To access the Amazon Appstore on an Android phone, you need to install the Amazon Underground app. To do this, you can either have a link emailed to you, or you can download it directly to your device.
If you’d like to download it directly, visit this page on your Android phone or this page on your Android tablet.
If you would like to have it emailed to your device, visit this page and enter your email address. You’ll be sent a download link.
Now download the app’s APK file using the link in the email.
Now that you have the APK file, you’ll need to make some changes on your deviceIs It Safe to Install Android Apps from Unknown Sources?Is It Safe to Install Android Apps from Unknown Sources?The Google Play Store isn't your only source of apps, but is it safe to search elsewhere?Read More before you can install it. Go to Settings > Security and make sure the toggle next to Allow Installation of Apps from Unknown Sources is turned on.
You’ll find the file in your phone’s Downloads folder (which you can find using a file managerThe 7 Best Free File Explorers for AndroidThe 7 Best Free File Explorers for AndroidThere are a bunch of file management and file exploring apps out there for Android, but these are the best.Read More). Tap on the file to begin the installation process, confirming your choices where appropriate.
When the installation is finished, launch the newly installed app and sign in using your Amazon account.
Verdict: Another win for Google. While the installation process for the Appstore isn’t complicated for technically-savvy users, less experienced people might find the steps daunting.
The Appstore gives its users more than $20,000 of apps, games, and in-app items for free. The promotion replaced the previously popular “App of the Day” where Amazon would offer a different paid app for free every day.
The free content isn’t just niche stuff that nobody wants. It includes heavily downloaded apps such as Office Suite Pro 8, Monument Valley, DuckTales, and Castle of Illusion. For apps that are already free — like Angry Birds or Star Wars Rebels — all the in-app purchases are free.
On its website, Amazon uses the example of the Jetpack Joyride Game to illustrate this. The company claims the entire game would cost you $41.15 on Google Play. You can see the breakdown of the comparison below:
The free content is easy to spot — just look for the “Actually Free” banner in the top left-hand corner of the app’s thumbnail. The free content is available in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and France.
Verdict: An overwhelming win for Amazon. The free content alone makes the Appstore worth installing on your device.
Although the Appstore doesn’t quite provide a one-stop shop for all your entertainment needs, it does offer voice-activated commandsAlexa, How Does Siri Work? Voice Control ExplainedAlexa, How Does Siri Work? Voice Control ExplainedThe world is moving towards voice commands for everything, but how exactly does voice control work? Why is it so glitchy and restricted? Here's what you need to know as a layman user.Read More for the main Amazon catalog.
For example, you can tap the microphone icon in the app and say “track my last order” or “where is my camera?” to get a status update on your pending orders. You can even say something simple like “reorder paper towels” or “buy more batteries,” and the item will show up at your door the next day.
This feature is a key selling point of Amazon Alexa on the Echo7 Creative Uses for Amazon Echo and Alexa7 Creative Uses for Amazon Echo and AlexaYou’ve seen the ads starring Alec Baldwin, but you're still not sure what Amazon Echo does or whether you need one in your home. We’re about to find out.Read More, possibly paving the way for more Alexa features to come to Android in the future.
Verdict: Using your voice means fewer taps and less time, both of which are good things. A win for Amazon.
Things to Consider
If you’ve decided you want to start downloading all your apps from the Amazon Appstore, there are two final points you need to consider.
Firstly, smaller developers don’t have the capacity to push updates to all the various app stores at the same time. Some might favor the Play Store, others might favor Amazon. From a user standpoint, it means on some occasions you might be waiting longer for bug fixes and security patches if you use the Amazon service to download your apps.
Secondly, it can become confusing to manage multiple apps from multiple sources on your device. It’s not easy to remember which store you downloaded an app from several months after installing it. If you switch to a new device, it can be a pain to work through two different libraries to get yourself up and running.
The Final Verdict
I’m going to give a narrow win to the Google Play Store. While Amazon offers some cool features and can save you some money, the sheer convenience of the Play Store trumps everything else. My best advice, however, is to have both app stores installed on your device.
Of course, that’s just my opinion — you might disagree. Now I want you to tell me your verdict. Which is the best app store in your view? More importantly, why is it the best store?
You can leave all your feedback, input, and opinions in the comments below.
Originally written on June 14th, 2013 by Chris Hoffman.
Image credit: Denys Koltovskyi via Shutterstock.com
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