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Mobile Apps Explained
For IE's latest iPad app proposal, we put together a plain-English guide to the world of mobile apps. It was so useful we thought we'd share some of it with you.
What's an App?
At the most basic level, an ‘App’ is simply an application, much like Microsoft® Word, Internet Explorer®, Skype™ or Google Earth™. It’s a piece of software that does something – whether that’s for business, communication, entertainment, or just plain satisfying your curiosity. In recent years, the term ‘App’ has been coined to primarily refer to applications that run on the web (i.e. inside your web browser), or more usually on a mobile device – such as a mobile phone or a tablet computer.
The rise of smartphones (a mobile phone that is more like a small computer) over the last couple of years has meant that there are now thousands of apps available, from simple note-taking apps, to news readers, to games. More recently, tablet computers have seen a boost thanks to the release of the Apple iPad at the beginning of 2010. The major advantage of these is a bigger screen, opening up many more possibilities for app developers and publishers.
Smartphones have been around for a while now, so I'm going to concentrate mostly on tablet PCs for the rest of the post.
Android, Apple, Samsung, HTC – Who's who?
There are many different people entering the tablet PC market – there’s the Apple iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the HTC Flyer, the Motorola Xoom, the LG G-Slate, and many others launching in the near future.
To understand the difference between all of these, the first step is to make a distinction between the operating system that runs on a tablet PC, and the hardware that it runs on.
In terms of operating system, the two big contenders at the moment are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. As Apple also make the iPad, having just recently launched the iPad 2, both of these run their own iOS system. Google’s Android system is a lot more open, meaning that other manufacturers are able to use it in on their devices, a few of which were mentioned above. While this variety is good, it also means there is a wide range of screen sizes and performances which must be taken into account when creating an app.
So which is best?
The tablet pc market is still very young, so it is too early to tell who the ‘winner’ is yet – if indeed there will be one at all. As Apple was the first into the market, they understandably have the current biggest market share, but Android is fast encroaching. What we do know is that the tablet pc market is only going to get bigger over the next few years.
How many apps are there?
Some baffling statistics surround the app marketplace – you may want to skip this section if too many zeros make your eyes hurt! For starters, there are currently over 360,000 active apps in the Apple App Store, and nearly a further 300,000 in the Android Market – that’s a lot of apps, and both are still growing. With nearly 700 new apps being added to the Apple App Store each day and nearly 1,000 being added to the Android Marketplace.
Interestingly, while games account for a big chunk of these – about 16% across both platforms – books come in a close 2nd with about 14% of the market.
The numbers for downloads are even bigger. In January, Apple announced they had hit 10 billion downloads, while Android has an estimated 3.7 billion.
While these numbers are for smartphones as well as tablet pcs, they do go to show that apps are very popular.
How do I purchase an App?
Once you have your tablet pc, it is easy to purchase an app and install it on your device. On the iPad you can use Apple’s App Store directly from the device, or hook it up to your computer and download it through iTunes.
The experience on Android is very similar – you can access the Android Market directly from the device, or go to the Market website from your computer which will magically push the app to your device – no cables needed.
One interesting development is that Amazon have, this week (Tuesday 22nd March) released their own Appstore for Android. This means that you can know purchase apps through Amazon, and install them on your device using their own Amazon Appstore App. This is currently only available in the US, but should be coming over to the UK in the near future.
How much do they cost?
Apps come in a wide variety of prices, from free all the way up to $1,000! The free apps make up the largest portion – with 33% being free in the Apple App Store, and a whopping 63% in the Android Market.
For paid apps, the average price across all apps is $2.43 in the Apple App Store and over 50% of paid apps in the Android Market only cost $1. That said, the cost varies quite a lot depending on the category – book apps averaging closer to $5 in the App Store.