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When an App is Not an App

App is often used to refer to something that is instead a mobile web site. If you’re researching software for business purposes, knowing the difference is more than just being pedantic.

First, an app is software that can be downloaded to your device and may be able to run without an internet connection. Many consumer software providers have different hands on a phoneversions for desktops, mobile devices, or to be run with a web browser. Each version may offer a different set of features. The desktop version is often the most robust. Users can download apps from sites like Google Play Store for Android devices and Apple’s App Store for iPhones and iPads. Perhaps as no surprise, Facebook is the mostdownloaded app in the history of the universe.

Tools for business, like class registration software, are more often available as mobile web sites. A mobile web site can be accessed from a desktop or a mobile device using an internet connection and a browser like Chrome or Internet Explorer. Such sites are responsive, which means what the user sees on screen changes with the device being used to view it. The web site responds automatically to fit the device. What the user sees on a smartphone looks different from what they see on a desktop. For example, mobile versions may have a hamburger menu, which is three stacked horizontal lines. Also, the screen can be swiped up and down to access more information on the page.

Additionally, mobile web sites most often deliver the full software experience. It’s not a limited version like an app may be. Whereas an app often must be updated by the end user, web-based software is updated automatically by its provider. Each time a user accesses the mobile web site via the internet, they’re getting the latest version.

If that seems confusing, perhaps it’s because smartphone and tablet screens are filled with icons, and there is no obvious differentiation on the screen between what is an app and what is a mobile web site. In case you like things even more confusing, some mobile web sites also have native apps, which are designed to work only with that software. Learning Stream’s class registration software, which is a mobile web site, does not have an app version of the full software. However, it includes an app, downloadable from app stores, designed specifically for scanning in attendees who have signed up using Learning Stream’s software.

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