Today, "There's an app for that" is more than just a casual axiom. Apps have become ubiquitous as most organizations--including those in Alaska--leverage technological advances to enhance access their products, services, and information.
An app, or application, is a piece of software that can operate through a web browser or offline on a computer as well as a smartphone, tablet, or other electronic device like smart TVs and smart watches. Apps are typically developed for a specific purpose, such as a shopping app for a smartphone, but some are designed for broad use and perform multiple tasks.
Types of Apps
There are three primary types of apps: desktop, mobile, and web. Desktop apps tend to have all the features of a software program, while mobile apps are usually more streamlined, simple, and easy to use. Mobile apps load quickly because they're stored on the device, providing users with instant access to materials. And because they can save data locally on the device, mobile apps allow users to access information and complete tasks offline. Web apps, like desktop apps, can be full featured in scope. However, they require the capabilities of an internet connection and web browser, so they're generally more lightweight in their functionality.
A web application is essentially a tool, according to Christopher Howell, CEO of Anchorage-based Northwest Data Solutions, which specializes in developing high-tech web applications that work across all modern devices. A web app, which could reside on the user's device, is connected to dynamic information that's stored on a database somewhere in the cloud or on a company's server. Having data stored in one central location allows updates to be applied to one source or code base. "So it's speed for development and speed for releasing updates and changes, which can be done in a matter of minutes or on a weekly basis," he says.
Since 2003, Northwest Data Solutions has developed a wide range of apps for the military, engineering companies, furniture stores, and financial institutions. The company has also created industry-specific medical and human resource applications, as well as an aviation safety management application that it is marketing worldwide.
There are also hybrid apps that are a cross between a web and desktop app. They have an offline desktop interface and direct access to hardware and other connected devices. They also have an always-on connection to the internet for rapid updates and access to internet resources. In addition, some apps exist in all three forms, providing greater flexibility for users. For example, Microsoft Word is available for computers in its most comprehensive form but also on the web, by subscription, and via a mobile app.
Today, the delineation between the different types of apps is increasingly blurred, according to Kyle Fox, director at Palmer-based Alopex Interaction Design. The line between apps and websites is also dissipating. An app differs from a website in that it tends to be more utilitarian and focused on specific functions, but that distinction is being erased with progressive web apps. This type of hybrid app lives in the user's browser and is a mix between a mobile website and an app. "Many websites are beginning to be more app-like," Fox says. "Consider AlaskaNavigator.org, which...