The World of the App

What is an APP?  |  Types of APP  |  On which devices can you use an APP?  |   An APP? To do what?

What can an APP contain?  |  Open Data: what is it and how to use it


What is an APP?

The word APP is short for a software application (a program) for mobile devices. Originally the word APP was used for smaller software products with limited functionality. Given that today's mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, have functions that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago, these days it’s even possible to use real software packages. However, the word APP now refers to a very specific and localized application. These appeared when iPhones first came onto the market allowing this type of software to be made available to a large number of people through the Apple AppStore.



Google Trends shows when the terms 'iPhone App' (in red) and 'Android App' (in blue) first appeared in search engines and how the number of searches with these words has increased over time. (see chart, source: Google Trends). 


Types of APP


Native APP

A native APP is an application that is designed for a specific device. Each device has its own operating system and programming language or code in which the APP must be developed in order to function. Often you can download these APPs directly from online portals such as Google Play, Apple Store, Blackberry-World and Windows Phone Store. These are the major portals, but there are many others.
Using the SDK (Software Development Kit) for Android, for example, you’ll develop an APP that only works on devices in this language. To run it on other devices, the code needs to be translated into the various existing languages.
Native APPs usually don’t require an internet connection to work, because everything they need is installed directly by downloading the APP, without needing to resort to external information.
Downloading and direct operation on the device has its advantages, but also disadvantages.


  • Fast and high performance usage, since the APP has been designed from the outset to work on the specific device.
  • Allows the best use of peripheral elements, namely the tools present on the device, such as temperature sensors, GPS, camera, audio, etc.


  • The use of the APP on another system is complicated and requires the entire system to be reconfigured. Therefore it’s expensive and complex.
  • Often it’s possible to access data from other software stored on the device such as a calendar, contacts, etc. This has often been criticized, especially concerning the Social Networks, as the protection of privacy and personal data is not guaranteed.



A web APP is basically a website that is optimized for use on mobile devices. The web APP is not installed on the smartphone or tablet like the conventional APPs we know. It simply links to a web address (URL) that is displayed using the browser (Safari, Explorer, Firefox etc).


  • It’s an independent platform and can therefore be used on any type of mobile device.
  • It’s cheaper.


  • It doesn’t have access to the device’s hardware (camera, GPS, etc..).
  • It can’t be published on the various online portals (Apple Store, Play Store).


Hybrid APP

A hybrid APP is the perfect compromise between the native and web APP. It’s an application that is created using the languages HTML5, CSS and JAVASCRIPT. After development, by using additional software such as PhoneGap, it’s converted into a native APP. This additional software is called a Wrapper.
It contains local elements, installed directly within the APP as well as some elements that can be accessed via the internet if needed. The advantage of this type of APP is its compatiblity with multiple operating systems.


  • Platform independence: you can simply program it with HTML5, CSS and JAVASCRIPT and using the Wrapper, turn it into a native APP.
  • Because it works like a native APP, using the other elements on the device will be quick and simple.


  • The APP will not function optimally on all devices and displays as its adaptation and conversion depends on the platform.


On which devices can you use an APP?

Today there are many devices on which you can use APPs. In first place, of course, are smartphones. However, there are also PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), which are handheld devices also known as palmtop computers. The best known are Palm and Windows CE, but these have now virtually disappeared as a concept from the market.

But APPs are not limited to mobile devices. The term Web APP, in fact, includes APPs that can be installed on a normal PC or laptop and viewed with standard browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari or Internet Explorer.

Platforms available today are:

  • Apple's iOS used on the iPhone, iPad, etc.
  • Google's Android, an open-source system. Main representatives of this system are Samsung, HTC, Sony, Google, Garmin, Huawei etc.
  • RIM/BlackBerry OS for use on BlackBerry 
  • Microsoft Windows Mobile devices can be used on Asus, Samsung, HTC, Sony, Motorola etc.

As a special platform HTML5 should also be mentioned. This is the current standard programming language that allows you to create applications that are very similar to native APPs, but that are used from the browser of the device on which they are downloaded.



An APP? To do what?

With an APP you can meet many different needs. But why should users use your APP? For which purpose?


a) To learn something

The program can have an educational or informative aim. This means that the user can acquire new knowledge through the APP. In this case, you can work with text, images or other elements. These should be informative and presented in an interesting way.



b) To make life easier

An APP that can meet a user’s need by offering them a tool that helps them in everyday life. An APP of this type could support the user when buying products, streamline processes, help them make decisions, analyze their behavior and so on.

It provides information in a clear and simple way, which would not otherwise be possible. Also here a good structure for the APP is needed so that it’s easy to understand and use.


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c) To play

Learning through play is one of the most enjoyable ways to acquire knowledge. A gaming APP can stimulate an intense and unconscious acquisition of information. The user reads and learns in a relaxed way whilst playing, without really being aware of studying or learning something. This type of tool is often described as a "serious game" and is known as “Edutainment” (education & entertainment).




What can an APP contain?

  • Text
  • Images
  • Lists
  • Menu
  • Maps
  • Research Tools
  • Video / Animation
  • Links



Open Data: what is it and how to use it

Open Data is data of general interest that is made available without any restrictions, meaning that it can be reused and disseminated. Whilst it does not only apply to data on the internet, the following considerations refer only to Open Data available on the World Wide Web (www).

It’s essential that Open Data is marked as such. Data without information on the license or the source is not necessarily Open Data. Therefore it’s necessary that it’s clearly stated on the website that it is indeed Open Data. This data can be used to create new websites or APPs but it needs to be adapted to fit the new website or APP. Each website that provides information as Open Data selects the format in which to present it. The user who wishes to use it can then readapt the content and format as they wish.





This text has been created thanks to the contribution of
the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (HTW Chur) and Massimo Rossi (CEO Contech).