Mobile Apps


Applications; Mobile Platforms


Mobile apps are programs designed to run on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. These apps usually perform a specific task, such as reporting the weather forecast or displaying maps for navigation. Mobile devices have special requirements because of their small screens and limited input options. Furthermore, a touch screen is typically the only way to enter information into a mobile device. Programmers need special knowledge to understand the mobile platform for which they wish to create apps.



Mobile applications, or apps, are computer programs designed specifically to run on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Apps must be designed for a specific platform. A mobile platform is the hardware and system software on which a mobile device operates. Some of the most widely used mobile platforms include Google's Android, Apple's iOS, and Microsoft's Windows. Mobile devices support a variety of software. At the most basic level, a platform's system software includes its operating system (OS). The OS supports all other programs that run on that device, including apps. In addition to the OS, smartphones and tablets come with a variety of preinstalled utility programs, or utilities, that manage basic functions. Examples of utilities include a clock and a calendar, photo storage, security programs, and clipboard managers. While utilities are not essential to the functionality of the OS, they perform key tasks that support other programs.

However, the real power of mobile devices has come from the huge assortment of mobile apps they can run. The app stores for various mobile devices contain hundreds of thousands of different apps to download. Each app has been designed with different user needs in mind. Many are games of one sort or another. There are also vast numbers of apps for every pursuit imaginable, including video chat, navigation, social networking, file sharing and storage, and banking.

Developers of mobile apps use various approaches to design their software. In some cases, an app is little more than a mobile website that has been optimized for use with small touch screens. For example, the Facebook app provides essentially the same functionality as its website, although it can be integrated with the device's photo storage for easier uploading. Other mobile apps are developed specifically for the mobile devices they run on. Programmers must program their apps for a specific mobile platform. App developers usually use a special software development kit and an emulator for testing the app on a virtual version of a mobile device. Emulators provide a way of easily testing mobile apps. Emulators generate detailed output as the app runs, so the developer can use this data to diagnose problems with the app.


Native mobile apps and hybrid apps offer some features and capabilities unavailable with standard web programming, and they offer faster connectivity than is available with traditional computer software. EBSCO illustration.

Native mobile apps and hybrid apps offer some features and capabilities unavailable with standard web programming, and they offer faster connectivity than is available with traditional computer software.
EBSCO illustration.

Mobile apps also have a low cost of distribution. In the past, software was sold on physical media such as floppy disks or CD-ROMs. These had to be packaged and shipped to retailers at the software developer's expense. With mobile apps, there are no such overhead costs because apps are stored online by the platform's app store and then downloaded by users. Aside from the time and effort of developing an app, the only other financial cost to the developer is an annual registration fee to the platform's app store and a percentage of revenue claimed by the platform. App stores typically vet apps to make sure they do not contain malware, violate intellectual property, or make false advertising claims. App developers can earn revenue from the download fee, in-app advertisements, and in-app purchases. There have been several developers who have produced an unexpectedly popular app, catapulting them to fame and wealth.


Mobile apps must be designed for a particular mobile platform. Sometimes, a developer will make a version of an app for each major platform. In other cases, however, developers only create an app to run on a single platform. This leaves users of other mobile platforms unable to use the app. In the case of popular apps, this can cause frustration among those who want to be able to use whatever apps they want on their platform of choice.

—Scott Zimmer, JD

Banga, Cameron, and Josh Weinhold. Essential Mobile Interaction Design: Perfecting Interface Design in Mobile Apps. Upper Saddle River: Addison-Wesley, 2014. Print.

Glaser, J. D. Secure Development for Mobile Apps: How to Design and Code Secure Mobile Applications with PHP and JavaScript. Boca Raton: CRC, 2015. Print.

Iversen, Jakob, and Michael Eierman. Learning Mobile App Development: A Hands-On Guide to Building Apps with iOS and Android. Upper Saddle River: Addison-Wesley, 2014. Print.

Miller, Charles, and Aaron Doering. The New Landscape of Mobile Learning: Redesigning Education in an App-Based World. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Salz, Peggy Anne, and Jennifer Moranz. The Everything Guide to Mobile Apps: A Practical Guide to Affordable Mobile App Development for Your Business. Avon: Adams Media, 2013. Print.

Takahashi, Dean. “The App Economy Could Double to $101 Billion by 2020.” VB. Venture Beat, 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.