What Are Apps? - Definition and Examples

The Google Maps app is seen on an Apple iPhone 4S on December 13, 2012
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The word "app" is an abbreviation for application. An app is a piece of software. It can run on the internet, on your computer, or on your phone or any other electronic device. The word "app" is a more modern usage, but this is really the same thing as a software program. 

In modern use, most people refer to apps as applications or software programs that run specifically on phones or other mobile devices.

This is probably the most common way to discuss apps. The Google Play store, for example (which sells movies, e-books, and music in addition to software), has a section on apps and "My apps." Amazon has a section called Appstore for Android. Apple has an App Store for iOS devices. However, these are all just mobile apps.

While the word "app" has gained popularity in the context of mobile devices, it still applies more broadly to programs in general, and this usage has become more common. Apple now sells official software for Macs on the Mac App Store.

While it's easy to think of apps as packaged software programs that you download and then execute, apps can also exist entirely on the web as websites that run scripted software entirely within a browser window, such as when you use Google web search. In this context, Google the search engine is an app.

Google and other software companies also blur the line by making online apps (cloud apps) that also offer downloadable components to enhance the experience.

Google Drive, for example, is an online app that you can use from any computer without downloading anything. However, if you have a desktop computer, you can download the Google Drive app and make it easier to sync your computer desktop files with your online files. Drag a file into your the Google Drive folder residing on your computer desktop, and it will upload to Google Drive's virtual storage in the background.

You can also download a Google Drive mobile app that quickly syncs files between your phone or tablet and Google Drive's online storage. 

Google's platform for the Chrome browser and Chrome OS is called the Chrome Web Store, but there is a specific section for apps. They make this distinction because Chrome also allows for themes and  extensions, which enhance the appearance or functionality of the Chrome browser.  

Also Known As

Apps are also known as: applications, software, programs, executables, subroutines, and packages. 

Common Misspellings: ap, aps

Possible Confusion: Google refers to their online services as apps, but they also sell a specific suite of services known as Google Apps for Work. Google has an application hosting service called Google App Engine, which is part of the Google Cloud Platform. 

More From Us