The Flying Developer

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14 May 2012
What is an App?

About a week before I published my last blogpost on Who Goes First the first version of the app was posted on Reddit by a friend of mine. His title was ‘App made by a colleague of mine’.

I was surprised by the comments. Here are a couple of them:

Is this an app? It seems just like a website.

Well, the new cool thing is to call a page in “the cloud” that does one specific thing a “web app”…

Yeah, it’s annoying. I was expecting a link to iTunes or one of the Android markets.

I have no doubt that Who Goes First is a (web)app, not just a website. It also runs well on mobile devices thanks to Bootstrap’s responsive design, so there’s no need for a native app. Nevertheless, it still didn’t fit these commenters’ definition of ‘app’.

We have similar problems with the Shopify App Store. I think the name is fine, but on more than one occasion merchants have been confused when going there because they’re expecting mobile apps, not webapps. We’ve been considering changing the name to ‘plugin store’, ‘extension store’, or something similar to combat this.

Where does this disconnect happen? I think the problem is context. I, my friends, and my colleagues are all deeply involved in technology and so have a fundamental understanding of how software is designed, developed, and distributed. On the other hand you have the people who consume the software we make. They don’t know the first thing about APIs, application frameworks, software patterns, or anything else that goes into making an app and what differentiates an app from ‘just a website’. They shouldn’t have to, either. The whole point of software is to abstract the complicated parts away from the user so that they don’t have to deal with them.

Thanks for reading! If you like my writing, you may be interested in my book: Healthy Webhook Consumption with Rails

David at 10:00


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