What Is an App? (With Categories and Related Jobs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An app, or application, is one of the most common forms of software people encounter, which enhances their productivity, enjoyment, communication, and their access to information. Whether an app helps individuals or corporations, they're a prominent focus of the software development industry, and integrate with many emerging and established technologies. Understanding what apps are and how they relate to the individuals, industries, or activities they assist is key to working with or developing them.

In this article, we answer the question, "What is an app?", outline the types, explain where to get them, list jobs that work with apps, and offer some examples.

What is an app?

To answer the question, "What is an app?" it's essential to understand its function. The term "app" is short for "application", and is a form of software that individuals can install and run on devices such as smartphones, computers, tablets, or other devices with central operating systems. Most commonly, the term app refers to a mobile device application or software used on a computer. Typically, apps have very specific purposes and functions.

For instance, a dating app works by connecting individuals with mutual dating goals, serving a particular function with specialized purpose-built programming. Other apps may offer similar functions or components, such as messaging features, but a dating app exists to serve a particular demographic or achieve a unique goal. Apps can also help in tasks related to shopping, productivity, business, and scheduling. The benefits of using apps include:

  • Connecting customers with businesses or contractors in trade services, consultants, and specialists

  • Can be cheaper to produce than other software forms

  • Allows employees to perform functions outside of the office on company-issued devices

  • Can integrate with other apps, platforms, operating systems, websites, or software

  • Can increase productivity within a business

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Categories of apps

To better understand the definition of what an app is, you can divide them into several common categories, relevant to both businesses and individuals. Below are some of the most commonly used types of apps:

Native app

When developers create an app for particular mobile platforms, they are native applications. For instance, developers may design an app for a particular type of mobile device that doesn't work on devices which run on different operating systems. Apps such as these work to provide maximum performance on that particular mobile platform. A native app may be a calculator, or a weather or calendar app, which comes pre-installed on a device.

Related: How to Be an Android App Developer (With Job Descriptions)

Web-based app

Web-based apps are applications which require the internet to operate fully. The common method for coding these apps is in HTML5, CSS, or JavaScript. These types of apps typically need significantly less memory space from the user's device because they store data on an internet server. Apps which are web-based include those that offer content streaming, online document editing, or online data storage.

Hybrid app

Hybrid applications are those which support both web-based and native technologies and combine elements of each. Developers can create these applications more easily and quickly by only using a single code base, which they can integrate into several platforms. A consideration for hybrid apps is that they often have a lower performance rate than web-based or native apps. This is because they still require the internet to download and access information, and aren't optimal for any particular platforms.

Related: 12 Programming Certifications to Boost Your Career

Where to get apps

There are several ways to find, research, and download apps for users of a range of devices. For mobile users, apps are typically available in an app store already on their device. These app stores usually allow users to find apps and review information, reviews, and images before installing the application directly from the store to their device. If there's a specific app you're looking for, it's common for a website dedicated to that app or service to offer a hyperlink to open the app's listing in your device's app store.

Desktop apps are usually available from a wider variety of sources. While some computer operating systems also offer an app store through which to access compatible apps, many applications are also available for download directly from websites. Users can download the installation files for an app, whether they purchase it or get it for free, and follow the prompts to install the program. Some web applications don't require downloading, but allow users to access them through browser plug-ins.

Related: What Does the IT Department Do Within a Modern Organization?

Jobs that work with apps

If you are interested in working with apps, you may consider a career which uses, develops, improves, or integrates applications. Here are some jobs which may appeal to you if you wish to work with apps:

1. Application developer

National average salary: $69,939 per year

Primary duties: Application developers code, design, and manage new applications. They also troubleshoot and monitor updates and potential threats to security. More senior application developers may even take on some project management tasks to manage a team of developers in creating new applications.

Related: How to Become a Mobile App Developer (With FAQs and Steps)

2. UI designer

National average salary: $61,523 per year

Primary duties: UI designers create the look of a website or application. They design the user interface, which is the element that users interact with, while considering their experience of interacting with the app. The primary duty of a UI designer is to create an interface that's intuitive and easy for users to navigate, while being visually appealing and engaging.

3. Software engineer

National average salary: $78,376 per year

Primary duties: Software engineers create programs, including applications, games, or websites. They also fix problems in the software of applications and troubleshoot issues. Software engineers may also work to integrate applications with other operating systems or websites. These engineers test new features and manage stakeholder relationships and expectations.

4. Social media manager

National average salary: $52,505 per year

Primary duties: Social media managers handle a company's online presence by creating promotional strategies, producing content, and analyzing data. They may also facilitate customer service through social media networks and oversee projects and campaigns. Because much of social media operates through applications, social media managers require an in-depth knowledge of app usage and best practices.

5. Full-stack developer

National average salary: $84,355 per year

Primary duties: Full-stack developers are software engineers with in-depth knowledge of the two principal components of web or application development. These are the front end, or customer-facing side, and the back-end, or server-side. Their duties also include developing servers and databases for running applications.

6. Mobile application developer

National average salary: $80,345 per year

Primary duties: Mobile application developers are software developers who specialize in creating software for mobile devices. As with other application developers, they launch and test software updates and manage the integration of mobile applications with other software. These developers fully code, design, and manage the applications on which they work.

Examples of types of apps

Apps can serve many specialized purposes, help you complete particular tasks, or provide information on a range of topics. Here are a few examples of types of applications and how they work across various platforms:

Word processing apps

Word processing apps allow users to write, edit, and publish text-based documents, and also integrate images. These applications are available for most platforms, operating systems, and device types. Apps designed for word-processing are usually for desktop and laptop devices, but simplified mobile versions also exist with many of the same features. There are even web-based word processing applications which users can access through their browser.

Image editing apps

Image editing apps are programs which allow users to manipulate images. These apps are also predominantly functional on desktop or laptop devices, but many also integrate with mobile devices in a limited capacity. There are also web-based image editing applications for users to access online by uploading images before editing and downloading their final product.

Messaging apps

Messaging apps help individuals and businesses alike to communicate through instant messaging platforms. Many of these are web-based or hybrid applications, as they require the internet to transmit messages. In most cases, users install messaging applications on their mobile devices or computers, but solely online versions also exist. There are also native messaging apps, pre-installed on devices to allow users to communicate with others who use compatible operating systems.

Educational apps

Educational apps can help users learn languages, mathematics, and many other subjects at a range of proficiency levels. Users most commonly learn through these apps on mobile devices, although desktop programs also exist. Educational apps can operate offline, but many do require the internet to access lessons and interact with the platform. Sometimes these apps are free to download and use, but you can also typically access paid and premium options. Educational apps are usually available through app stores or online downloads.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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