At the recent Gartner Portals, Content and Collaboration Summit, I attended a roundtable discussion titled “Why an App Isn’t an Application”. A dozen participants from various companies and the public sector discussed their current state and future plans for apps and applications. These leaders are responsible for internal systems, as well as customer facing tools and functionality. The first question posed was one that we hear a lot at Tahoe – what is the difference between an App and an Application?
APP vs. APPLICATION IS NOT ABOUT THE DELIVERY MECHANISM
Because of our iPhones, iPads, iPods, Android devices and the iTunes and Google Play stores, we are used to downloading and using apps. Many of us think that Apps are synonymous with phones and tablets, while Applications live on a desktop or laptop. This is not necessarily the case. You can have Apps on a desktop or laptop, and Applications on a tablet or phone. In fact, a few weeks ago we posted a piece on Apps in SharePoint 2013, which allows Apps to run in the desktop or on a mobile device.
APPS PERFORM A SINGLE FUNCTION
So if Apps vs. Applications is not about mobile vs. desktop, then what is the difference? In the roundtable session, we landed on a consensus that an App is designed for a single purpose – one piece of functionality. An Application, on the other hand, may handle a wide variety of functions. The App focuses on doing the one piece of functionality very well and providing an outstanding user experience.
By this definition, google.com is an App. The one function it performs is search, and it provides a highly usable interface for that function. And of course Google’s search app is delivered through desktops, laptops, phones, tablets, and most everything in between. Tools like Salesforce and many internal support programs are Applications, containing a larger number of capabilities packed into a single program.
HOW MANY APPS IS TOO MANY?
After distinguishing Apps from Applications, one of the more interesting topics covered was the idea of having multiple apps, with each doing one thing, instead of a single application that has multiple pieces of functionality. Which is better for the user? One example was a city website providing multiple services to the public, including pothole reporting, water bill payment, news updates, and much more. Would an end user rather have one application for the city, or would they prefer multiple apps – one to report potholes, one to pay their water bill, etc.? How many apps for a single company is too many? Statistics show the average iPhone user having between 40 and 50 apps on their phone – will users want multiple apps from a single company? How will they know which of the organization’s apps provides the functionality they want? All good questions that will take time and user experience testing to figure out.
DOES IT MATTER IF IT IS AN APP OR AN APPLICATION?
In the end, maybe the question is not whether you should be building an App or an Application, but how you can combine the best of both into something your users love. After all, users don’t care if it is an App or an Application by definition – they just want to EASILY accomplish their task, whether reporting a pothole, playing a game, executing a web search, or paying their water bill.