Apps 101 - Where can you use your apps?

Apps aren't just for phones. Learn about the different devices that can run them.

Oxford University Press defines an App as
"An application, especially as downloaded by a user to a mobile device."

The American Dialect Society made App their word of the year in 2010 and used a slightly wider definition.
"an abbreviated form of application, a software program for a computer or phone operating system"

In 2017 we tend to use the term App as a general term for software running on any sort of device. The term is in common use and has replaced software for most people. In fact the phrase “there’s an app for that” is ubiquitous and even my mum uses it.

What this does mean if you’re getting an app developed?  Lets have a look at all the devices that now run apps.

 

Smartphones

Apps really started when Apple introduced the AppStore in 2008.  This corresponded with the release of the second generation iPhone 3G.  It allowed developers like us the opportunity to create software for use on  iPhones.  

Google followed up with their Play store along with the Windows Phone store, Blackerry App World and the Amazon Appstore amongst others.

Since 2008 Smartphones have become commonplace and the hub of many people's lives. They‘re the way we connect to the internet and socialise with our friends and family. They allow us to work on the move and can run custom apps to accomplish almost any task.

Smartphone apps are ideal for:

  • Games
  • Social Media
  • Maps
  • Email
  • Photography
  • Music
  • Utilities
  • Enterprise Tools

One thing that makes the phones smart is the variety of sensors that the devices have built into them.  These do everything from knowing which way the device is facing (compass); where it is (GPS); whether it's moving (accelerometers); if it's close to something (proximity) and even how bright the light is around it (electro-optical).  All these sensors can make apps, running on phones, really smart.

 

Tablets

What is now known as the tablet has been attempted many times in the past with the Apple Newton in the early 1990s and Microsoft’s pen driven computers of the early 2000s.  However, this device class really took off with the launch of Apple’s iPad in 2010.  The iPad along with various Android tablets now dominate the market for large touchscreen devices.

Ideal for games, watching videos and consuming content, tablets are starting to gain traction as real computing devices.  Apple’s forthcoming iOS 11 gives lots of love to the iPad and will turn it into the device that can replace your laptop.

Tablets essentially contain the same sensors and functionality as smartphones but with bigger screens.  We love building for the larger screen and our last two apps have been developed first for the iPad before adding phone support at a later date.

Tablets apps are ideal for:

  • Games
  • Social Media
  • Video and photos
  • Productivity apps
  • Enterprise use

 

Wearables

Wearables and watches are currently the smallest devices running IOS and Android. They vary from specific fitness and health devices through to more general do anything Smartwatches.

Screen sizes on these devices are small and they can be a challenge to develop for.  For specific uses they are brilliant for a quick glance at a notification or for tracking exercise.  A lot of these devices add heart rate recording to the usual array of smart sensors.

Wearable Apps for brilliant for:

  • Fitness
  • Health and Medical
  • Notification Hubs
  • Remote control

 

Smart TVs

Our fourth group of devices used to be pretty dumb.  As recently as 10 years ago most TV’s just showed television pictures, since then all sorts of TV apps have started to appear.

These include the obvious catch-up players like iPlayer as well as completely new streaming services such as Netflix and Sky/HBO Go.

Apps for TVs include

  • Television catch-up
  • Streaming TV and Music
  • Games
  • Training Content
  • Shopping
  • Home hubs

As well as Smart TVs themselves there are also a number of plug in set top boxes that provide the same functionality. These include the Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire, Apple TV and the Roku.

While some of the TVs can be tricky to develop for, the set top boxes all provide easy ways for you to publish too.

 

Smart Speakers

Do you remember the promise of sci-fi in the 1970s and 80s?  As well as flying cars we were shown things like having spoken conversations with computers and of course, the promise of universal translation.

By late 2014 this started to become a reality with the launch of the Amazon Echo, a smart speaker with a built in digital assistant that finds answers to common questions; gives weather forecasts and local information and finds music we like all based on voice queries.  Other manufacturers have followed Amazon including the Google Home, the soon to be released Apple Homepod and the fabulously named LingLong DingDong from China.

The devices vary with the quality of their personal assistant. This quality relates to the amount of data held about you and the privacy stance of the company selling the device.  Amazon and Google know a lot about you and offer fairly clever assistants.  Apple respects your privacy a little more and it’s assistant Siri is a bit more restricted.

Apps in the traditional sense can’t currently be installed on Smart Speakers, but cloud based services can be connected to them.  Good uses for Smart Speakers include

  • Music playback
  • Local information queries
  • Calendar and scheduling
  • Home automation
  • Shopping

 

Smart Cars

Both Apple (Carplay) and Google (Android Auto) have development programmes aimed at getting apps into cars.  Their initial offering focuses on the obvious things like mapping, communications and of course music services but also includes messaging and audio apps.

The use case for these apps is currently fairly limited.  However, 3rd parties can apply to have their apps available in smart cars.

 

PCs

Finally, lets not forget the humble personal computer. Lots of us still like to use computers, particularly for content creation and more complex tasks.  The keyboard and mouse is still often the best combination for making complex documents, creating graphics and playing the most in-depth games.

All the PC ecosystems have their own app stores.  In addition, we have the option of creating web apps and accessing them through any modern browser. 

 

Summary

So much choice from smartphones, tablets, wearables, TVs, speakers, cars and PCs.  Get in touch and we can help you work out where to start.

 

Sources

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/app

http://www.americandialect.org/app-voted-2010-word-of-the-year-by-the-american-dialect-society-updated

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_app

https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/android-auto-vs-apple-carplay-head-to-head/

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About Simon Hemington

Simon sets the business and creative direction for The Boffin Lab.

He has over 20 years industry experience having worked for both small technology companies and giant multi-nationals. He built his first websites around 1996 and since then has been involved in making systems both big and small.

His guiding principle is always to make things that work as well as they look.

Outside of the lab Simon is a keen cyclist and triathlete.  If you spot him at a race please say hi and get ready to talk tech.

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Simon Hemington