Just a few years after they started appearing, “apps” are nearly ubiquitous in both the mobile and desktop arenas. Smartphones are chock-full of them, and even laptop and PC makers are opening up “app stores” for users to peruse a variety of fun and business-friendly apps.
If you’re just setting out in this world, the sheer amount of choice can be daunting; hundreds of thousands of apps are available, regardless of platform. Here’s a guide for navigating the ever-growing app landscape.
What’s an App?
Unlike large, multifunctional software applications like Microsoft Word or Outlook, an app is typically stripped down to just one function. For example, it may only track the stock market or consist of a game with simple graphics. Some apps boast multiple features, but often users prefer single-purpose apps that don’t sacrifice speed for functionality.
How They Work
While apps rely on an online connection for download, they don’t necessarily need that link to function. Many can operate offline — for example, you might download a “yoga poses” deck for your next trip or a “flashlight” app that turns your smartphone into a camping tool — but they do need an Internet connection to be updated. Developers are constantly tweaking apps, and staying on top of these updates can prevent interoperability problems down the line.
Making the Choice
Feel free to swap out apps frequently, but also choose wisely from the start. Here are a few questions to ask when choosing:
• Does the app do exactly what you need? So many apps are out there; don’t settle for good enough when you can have precisely what you want.
• Are you getting the app from a trusted source? Hackers love to release free apps because they can hide malicious code behind a simple game or other function.
• Does your device start to act wonky soon after you download an app? Not all apps play well with others. If you’re experiencing issues, delete the app and find another one that works better with your operating system.
Once you’re comfortable with downloading a few apps, you might find yourself collecting a whole slew of them, for everything from currency conversion to mileage tracking to racing games. Chances are, you’ll forget what it was like to live without them.