what's an "app"?

This isn’t Treat-Me-Like-I-Were-Stupid, I really am stupid about this.

I understand vaguely what an app does (provides a specific service not normally available to an online device) but I’ve used one (knowingly) and I’m in the market for a cel phone that does more than place and receive phone calls, so can someone bring me into the current century?

Define “app.”

Who produces them?

Are they specific to certain devices, manufacturers, platforms, etc. or can any app be used anywhere?

What do they cost? (i.e. what’s the range of prices, are some of them free, are the ones that are free prevalent and are they any good?)

How many do you have, and do you actually use them regularly?

Do they tend to slow down your machine?

Which ones are “must-have” and which are “don’t really-need, and who-designed-this -POS-anyway?”

It is short for ‘application’ which is argot for computer program. And as a new owner of an iphone I would also like to know which are the must have apps, I haven’t installed any yet. There is one I’ve seen that you can hold your phone to and it will recognize a song, say if you were in a bar or something like that.

Tapatalk is the essential app for Dopers. I have a iPhone which has Safari as a browser - doesn’t display the Boards well. Tapatalk is an app which puts the Boards into a more readable format.

“App” isn’t the most precisely defined term, it’s basically just defined as “a program that runs on a smartphone or is inspired by smartphone programs.” An app differs from a lot of programs in that they’re usually very dedicated to one well-defined task. For instance, a computer program for video playing often contains a lot of stuff like metadata editing, file conversion, streaming, etc. A smartphone app will typically just do something like play mp4 files REALLY WELL.

This is, of course, not universal, there are some “and the kitchen sink” apps out there – even apps that manage other apps. But generally they are:

  1. Cheap
  2. Specialized
  3. Lightweight
  4. Programs
  5. Designed to be on a smartphone-like device

Apps generally are cheap, in $.99-$5 range (some very popular ones are even free), but there are some heavier-duty apps that require more technical prowess to make that will run you as high as $35.

Apps are specific to a certain type of phone operating system, as with any program. However, due to the fact that apps are so bare-bones, porting them to other systems is rather trivial and it’s rather common (though not ubiquitous) to see the same app on iOS and Android platforms (if not other ones as well). Android is a bit tricky, however, theoretically any android app should run on any Android phone – but due to various technical snaggles, many programs only work on specific phones (I hear it’s getting better though).

I have nothing to say about what apps to get, I have some but they’re rather boring. I don’t think most apps are liable to drain your battery or slow your phone down unless they’re an app specifically designed to run in the background, though.

Application for your computer. Like the browser you use to have fun on the SDMB.

Application developers. Software geeks.

Yes, they are usually (but not always) specific to devices.

They can be free or they can cost money. Sometimes there is a stripped down version for free and a “professional version” for sale.

That’s going to depend on the person.

They can.

That’s going to depend on the person. But “Angry Birds” is definitely a “must have”. :slight_smile:

Not really, nobody really refers to Starcraft II, Chrome, or Photoshop as an “app.” “App.” While it’s technically short for “application,” it’s really a term that’s taken on a life of its own. It’s a lot closer to what “applets” used to be. Whereas applets were tiny little programs that ran in your browser, apps are tiny little programs that run on your phone.

That one’s called “Shazam.” It’s magic. :slight_smile:

About the only app I have that I paid for - only a coupla bucks - is one called “Out of Milk.” It’s a grocery list that you can sync with other users, so, for example, the Other Shoe and I don’t both stop for bread on the way home or whatever.

Like Internet Explorer is an app for Windows, so AppX is an app for a phone - it adds functionality, does stuff the basic operating system doesn’t (a modern phone is a computer program).

There is another called SoundHound and there may be more beyond that. But one failing in my experience with these song-identifying apps is that they fail on classical pieces.

I don’t think that’s an inherent problem with classical pieces so much as the availability of such. I’m pretty sure the songs just do some database-fueled inference against a database of every iTunes song (or at least – Shazam does), and if that specific recording isn’t available on the iTunes store you’re SOL. In addition, I think the issue is that classical pieces often have a lot of recordings by different people that sound similar. I imagine that it could hear a sound pattern, try to match it and say “this could be any of 157 songs!” and give up, even though all 157 of those recordings were various renditions of Flight of the Bumblebee.

It’d be nice if they could just tell me that it’s the Flight of the Bumblebee, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, or whatever.

I have my own question about cell phone apps. This is based on a general impression, not direct personal experience (I myself only have a dumbphone and it only makes and receive telephone calls, doesn’t have anything I’d dignify as an operating system, can’t run any apps).

It seems like a huge huge number of things that, on a regular computer, would simply be a bookmark that’d you’d save in your favorite web browser are each being released as apps for cell phone users.

• why??? is it because the screen size of a cell phone doesn’t render standard web site pages very effectively? if so, why don’t they just write code that tests for screen height and screen width in pixels and bounce to an alt web page if it appears you’re under 1024 x 768 or 1152 x 870 or whatever?

• doesn’t that rather massively clot up your user experience? i would seriously hate to have to have a “Straight Dope app” and a “google app” and a “wikipedia app” and a “youtube app” and so on and so forth for each and every one of my most commonly used web sites. AND THAT’S IF THEY WERE ALL FREE. (do I correctly understand that only some such apps are indeed free?) AND THAT’S IF THEY CAME PREINSTALLED. (presumably not, therefore you have to go acquire each one and install it, yes?)

I think many websites do this already, and have mobile versions of the websites. But ideally, the web app isn’t just a portal to the website but does something more.

Most websites have mobile-friendly sites now that automatically load if it detects you’re using a mobile device (nothing so primitive as detecting resolution – I think it literally detects the browser which is phone specific). I’m sure there’s a Wikipedia app, but there’s also a mobile site (m.wikipedia.org iirc) that works just as well. You don’t need an “SDMB” app, but a general message board app.

Yes, things can get rather cluttered with multiple book apps, and an app to read PDF files and such, but it’s nothing SO drastic as an app for everything you’d normally just web-search for.

Does this mean anything apart from the fact that the UI is really simple (you know, because the app only does ONE THING)? I mean, it is not actually going to make your music sound better or anything, is it?

No. The only thing that creates a “user experience” on the iphone aside from it’s phone/text capabilities are the apps. The splash page for the phone is just a list of apps.

I absolutely hate web browsing on the iPhone. First of all, Safari sort of sucks I and I often have problems loading pages at all. Second of all, zooming around to try to make the text readable is a pain, since you can never display more than a fraction of the page. Some websites have a mobile version. Others prefer to develop an app. Some do both.

Most website apps are free.

You go to the app store, which is a preloaded app itself. You search for the thingy you want (let’s say, the free meetup.com app), you click “download” and after approximately 30 seconds, you’re done. If this is your most time consuming chore in life, I envy you.

That said, no one is forcing you to download free apps, or pay for paid apps. If you never use anything but the preloaded apps you can live a perfectly content life. (they are are: youtube, yahoo weather, safari, calendar, camera, music, reminders and google maps… maybe I forgot one or two)

That was a bit of a stupid example, I’ll admit. I think the most drastic contrast is usually in things like photo editing. On a PC you have a suite mad with features that is really in depth, feature rich, and usually kind of a hassle to work with when you have to do something new. On a phone you usually have dedicated programs to say, add a filter to a photo, or crop a photo. The interface is simple, but it usually has a lot more specific features for, say, cropping a photo in a specific manner that a user in a PC photo editing suite would be expected to do themselves as a series of smaller steps.

Plus not all of them are simply “prettied-up” portals to websites. I have an app called Paprika that’s a cookbook program which can auto-convert many online recipes into its own format, or you can manually enter your own recipes. It works in offline mode so you don’t need an Internet connection all the time, you can use it to make meal plans/full shopping lists by assigning recipes to different days on the internal calendar, and you can sync recipes/shopping lists/meal plans across multiple devices if you like (it works on iPhone/iPad/Mac).

I also have some cookbook programs by cookbook authors like Mark Bittman, Michael Ruhlman, and Jamie Oliver. Many of these programs are useful in that they allow you to search by ingredient, set personalized/multiple timers, scale ingredients if you want to make more or less of a particular recipe, etc. Some have video tutorials for certain steps.

Apps are all kinds of things. I have apps for:

  • E-mail program (I use the iPhone native one, and get separate inboxes for work and home e-mail)
  • Calendar
  • GPS with audio turn-by-turn directions for driving (MapQuest)
  • Walking/running tracker program with accelerometer and GPS to figure out how far you’ve gone, your time, and pace
  • Music player
  • Podcasts player
  • Flashlight
  • Calculator
  • Unit converter
  • Camera
  • Games!
  • Amazon’s app which works nicely to get reviews of items in stores - use the built-in barcode scanner feature and it will pull up the item’s listing on their store, letting you see how Amazon buyers have reviewed that book/toaster/vacuum cleaner/whatever. I use this a lot when deciding what item to buy.
  • Optical character recognition - take a picture of some text, use the app to convert it to text, paste the text into a note for yourself, an e-mail, etc.
  • Do “cloud storage” of important photos, electronic documents, songs, whatever

Really, it’s just crazy all the things you can do.

As an example-
The eBay app is WAY BETTER than using ebay’s web interface. Whoever wrote the app gave a lot of thought to how an actual user might want to buy/sell on eBay. I wish that app was available for OS X.

There are a lot more differences between using a computer and using a modern smart phone than just the screen size. The whole way you interact with them is different. On a computer, you have a mouse that moves a pointer around on the screen. On a phone, you tap directly. On the face of it, this sounds like an insignificant difference, until you really think about it.

With a mouse, you can (and have to) slide the cursor around on the screen independent of clicking. So the interface can use what are commonly called “hovers”: When you move the pointer over some item (icon, box, whatever) and then stop moving it, a second or two later something will happen, typically a menu or text box will “pop up” (i.e. appear) on the screen. You simply can’t do that with a touch interface, because there is no concept of moving the pointer. You don’t (and can’t) slide the pointer around on the screen you simply tap to indicate where you want it, and that tap is almost always also interpreted as the equivalent of a mouse-click.

Now, again, that may sound like an insignificant difference, and often it is, unless a website has been designed such that significant behavior is done via things-that-popup-via-hovers. NetFlix is an example of this. A typical NetFlix page has a bunch of box art images. You hover over one, and you get a popup that has the description of the movie or TV show, and that popup is where the link is add it to your queue or see the list of episodes. So if nothing is done, and you go to the NetFlix site on your iPhone, there are major things that you just can’t do.

Now, sure, as you said, it’s possible for the website designers/implementers to detect that you’re on a smart phone and provide a separate set of web pages that are specifically designed for phones. Some sites do that, but others (like the straightdope) do not. And even without issues about things like hovers, sometimes a website designed for large computer screens is just difficult to use on a small phone screen (e.g. the buttons are sized such that they’re pretty easy to click with a mouse pointer, but difficult to tap on a phone screen). Then there’s the issue that many websites today are “heavy” in terms of the amount of data on a page (i.e. lots and lots of big images), and not everyone has 4G on their phone, so it can be frustratingly slow to load pages.

So the benefit of things like a “Straight Dope app” and a “google app” and a “wikipedia app” and a “youtube app” on a phone, compared to just surfing to the web pages, is that the app can be designed specifically for the phone screen size and method of user input (among other things), and often just makes for a better user experience. It’s one of those things that is entirely up to the individual. But it’s also something where you really can’t appreciate the potential difference until you actually have the experience of using the web site and then using the app.

On the flip side, there are cases where the specialized app has taken a step backwards compared to the web site. IMDB is my example. The IMDB iPad app just sucks, and that’s with the iPad’s bigger (than the iPhone) screen. They tried to use the iPad interface, but all the accomplished was to make simple navigation painful. The website is far, far easier to use for simple things like looking at a TV series’ episode list.

So it’s just an individual choice. You think right now that you’d hate to have all those apps, but I suspect that if you got a smart phone, you’d find some web sites where you prefer surfing there with the browser, but some, at least, where you decide that the app experience is preferable.