Have You Ever Asked Yourself What Are Apps And How Do They Work?

Written by Felipe on June 2nd, 2013

This may seem like a silly topic for an article to many of you but believe it or not, there are actually a lot of people who have asked me the question “what are apps an how do they work?”

Not all of my articles need to be geared for experienced power users so today I’ll bring the heat down a notch or two and get back to basics. Only a few short years ago, cell phones were very basic in their design and capabilities. Today, however, is a completely different story! Some of the smartphones available today are more powerful than the supercomputers of 30 years ago!

Let me start off by clarifying what a smartphone actually is. A smartphone is basically a cell phone that has the capability of downloading and running small computer programs. These little computer programs are known affectionately as “apps” or “applications”. Keep in mind that smartphones are basically very small computers.

Okay, let’s say that you’ve just upgraded your old clunky cell phone to a new modern smartphone. What now? Well, actually nothing HAS to change. If you would like, you can just keep using your phone as a simple communications device. I personally think that if you do, you’ll really be missing out of what apps can actually do for you.

When Apple introduced their amazingly popular iPhone to the world, they hit the airwaves hard with TV commercials that used the slogan, “there’s an app for that” in them. It’s only been a few years since Apple introduced the iPhone and in that time span, virtually every cell phone manufacturer has jumped on the smartphone bandwagon. It’s my opinion that Apple is responsible for the overwhelming popularity of these “mini computers” we call smartphones today.

If you can think of a task, there’s probably an app that will make performing that task easier. There are actually well over a million apps that are available for smartphone owners to use if you can believe that! What’s even more impressive is that hundreds of new apps are being developed everyday!

There are apps to calculate how much you should tip your waitress. There are apps to help you keep your day organized. There are apps to calculate your fuel mileage and remind you when you need to get the oil changed in your car. There are also apps that are simply little “time killers” such as video games or even good old fashioned crossword puzzles. Of course, there are a number of good cell phone tracking apps that you can choose from as well. Let’s not forgot those!

Now that we’ve got the introduction out of the way, have you ever asked yourself “how do apps work?” Well, if you have, you’re not alone. Basically an application is a computer program that is designed to run on a specific type of smartphone. Just like you have programs to do things like make spreadsheets on your home computer, apps can be programmed to do virtually anything that you can dream of. It’s the computer code that runs behind the scenes when you use them that makes them work the way that they do.

How To Get Apps On Your Smartphone

If you’ve never installed an application on your phone, don’t worry. It’s amazingly simple to download and install apps on your smartphone. You might be surprised to know that there are thousands and thousands of FREE apps that you can download and use if you would like to. There are also premium apps that you can purchase if you choose to. I’ve heard from friends that the iPhone App Store has lot of apps that you have to pay for and the Google Play site has a reputation of having more free apps. I haven’t really spent any time verifying this theory, however, so it may be just a bunch of hype to gain popularity for Android powered devices. Many of these premium apps have “lite” versions that are actually free so you can try the app to make sure that you like it before deciding to purchase it.

Where To Get Apps For Your Smartphone?

    Android Market Screenshot
  • If you have an iPhone, the most popular place to get apps is in the Apple Apps Store. Here’s a link to that site for you to use: Apps Store
  • If you have a Google Android powered cell phone, most people get their apps from the Google Play site. You’ll find that here: Google Play
  • If you have a BlackBerry, you’ll want to get your apps at the BlackBerry App World. Here’s a link to it: BlackBerry App World
  • For you Windows Phone owners out there, you’ll find your apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace. Here’s the link for it: Marketplace
  • Palm owners can find their apps here: Palm Software
  • You Samsung phone owners will want to go here: Samsung Apps
  • LG owners can go here for their apps: LG App Store

If I didn’t list your particular phone, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any apps available for it. Just do a Bing search with the brand of your phone followed by the word “apps” (e.g. “Palm apps”) and you’ll quickly find the website that you should use to download apps for your particular brand of phone.

Will You Need A Data Plan?

It’s worth pointing out that you’ll need a data plan in order do download apps directly from your phone’s mobile browser. If you don’t subscribe to a data plan, you may be able to download the app that you want to use directly to your computer and then transfer it to your phone using Bluetooth or a USB cable.

I should also point out that some apps such as certain phone tracking applications require that you have a data plan. If you don’t know what a data plan is, you can think of it like your Internet connection for times when you are out and about and you’re not able to connect to the Internet via a Wi-Fi hotspot. Just because you own a smartphone that is capable of connecting to the Internet, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to do so. You’ll have to pay for an Internet connection for your phone and this connection is affectionately known as a “data plan”.

Any apps that upload information collected by the application to a web based server for you to have access to later will require that your phone have a data plan. Additional, apps that download data from the Internet will need some form of an Internet connection. This connection can either be a data plan or a Wi-Fi connection (if you happen to be near one).

When you are looking at the apps that you might be interested in installing on your phone, you will see a list of “permissions” that the app will need in order to function properly. If an Internet connection is listed as one of the required “permissions”, you will know that in order to use that particular application, you’ll need a data plan or a connection to a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Are There Additional Costs Associated With Using Applications On Your Smartphone?

This is a great question and it’s one that is worth paying very close attention to! Many of the apps you use will be free. Having said that, there will probably be some apps that you will find to be so useful that you won’t mind paying a one time fee to purchase them. I shouldn’t forget to mention that there is yet another classification of applications that you will need to pay a monthly subscription fee if you would like to use them.

For example, the Life360 family safety GPS application has a free version as well as a premium version that you’ll have to pay a monthly fee for if you want access to some of the premium features like “Registered Sex Offender Monitoring”. In my opinion, this is a perfect example of a fee based app that I don’t mind paying a monthly fee to be able to use it.

Okay, are you paying attention? If you’re not, put down your cup of coffee and focus for just a minute because what I’m about to tell you could potentially save you a bundle of cash! Applications that need a data connection “could” potentially run your cell phone bill up into the stratosphere!

A few years ago, I heard a story of a Canadian man who thought he was being clever by using his cell phone as a modem for his computer. He went absolutely hog wild with this new found “cheap” Internet connection (I believe he was paying $10) and downloaded a whole bunch of HD movies to his computer. Well, apparently he didn’t read something in the “fine print” and he ended up racking up a whopping $85,000 cell phone bill! I later heard that his cell phone company took pity on him because of this mistake and reduced his bill to somewhere around $3,000. This is, of course, an EXTREME example of what we’re talking about here but I think it does a good job of making my point.

Pandora Internet Radio App ScreenshotLet me give you a more realistic example of how a smartphone app might end up costing you a lot of money if you’re not careful. One of my most favorite apps for smartphones is the Pandora Internet Radio application. As a matter of fact, I don’t even listen to the regular radio anymore. This app streams the songs from my favorite bands right to my cell phone. I’m actually listening to Jason Mraz “I’m Yours” on Pandora right know. I love this app because it streams high quality music to my phone and there are NO COMMERCIAL INTERRUPTIONS! If you use this app, you’ll get nothing but music and it’s actually the kind of music that you WANT to listen to.

8-20-2011 Update – Sadly, it seems that it was too good to last. I just heard a commercial on Pandora. It was a short commercial but it was still a commercial. I’m not going to get too broken up about it since they don’t seem to be playing very many commercials. It’s definitely nothing like 30 minutes of music and 30 minutes of commercials that you get if you listen to the radio.

8-26-2011 Update: I just heard a brief commercial message from Pandora that said that for $36 a year you can get Pandora without ads. I don’t know yet if this means that you won’t have to hear commercials or if it simply means that you won’t see ads displayed on your smartphone screen. When I know more I’ll update you then.

Sorry for those distractions but I like to pop back into my posts from time to time and update them when I learn more information about what I have reported. Now, let’s get back to the article.

Here’s where you can run into trouble when using a program like this. If you use apps that stream music, video, or in some other way, transfer a lot of data, your cell phone bill “could possibly” get to be quite huge without you even realizing that you cell phone was leaking money like a hole in the Hoover dam. I personally pay for an unlimited data plan on my phone so I don’t have to worry about this but if I didn’t and I listened to Pandora for several hours, my cell phone company would absolutely love me because they will happily bill me for the additional data charges when I go over my monthly allotted data allowance.

If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, you can still use apps like Pandora or even Netflix but ONLY use them when you are in a location where your phone is connected to the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection and not when your phone is only capable of transferring data via its data plan. Note that if you have children who are on your family cell phone plan, it’s definitely worth taking the time to drive the importance of this message home to them. In most cases these days, you can log into your account on your wireless service provider’s website and monitor how each member of the plan is using their phone.

What Else Should You Know About Downloading Apps?

My current phone is an HTC Thunderbolt that runs on the Google Android operating system so I get most of my apps from Google Play. If you have an Android phone, you might be interested in reading my article about downloading apps that aren’t on the Google Play site. You can find it here: Android Apps Not In Google Play. Basically, you want to make sure that you download apps from reliable sources and not places like torrent websites if you choose to get apps for sources other than the Google Play website.

Many iPhone owners want to be able to use apps that aren’t available in the Apple Apps Store so they perform a procedure known as “jailbreaking” to liberate their phone from the clutches of Apple. It’s important that you realize that Apple really scrutinizes the apps that they allow in their Apps Store for both quality and malicious intentions. If you decide to jailbreak your phone and download apps that are not officially sanctioned by Apple, you should first consider whether the app is coming from a trusted source before you go crazy and install just any old piece of software onto your iPhone.

How Long Does It Take To Download and Install Applications?

When I’m able to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi, it only takes a few seconds to download most apps from the Google Play site onto my phone. When I’m connecting to Google Play through Verizon at 3g speeds (4g isn’t available where I live yet), it doesn’t really take that much longer. After the app has downloaded, it automatically installs on my phone automatically so I don’t have to worry about learning the process of installing each particular app onto my phone. The process is very similar for iPhones and most other smartphones.

I have installed some other apps that were bit more tricky to install such as the Swype keyboard. In my opinion, this is the best texting app for Android so I didn’t mind jumping through a few hoops to get it installed on my phone!

When Should You Start Downloading Apps?

If you’re new to smartphones or you haven’t really gotten into downloading apps yet, you probably don’t realize what you’re missing. My suggestion to you would be to go to one of the resources I listed above and browse through all the great apps that are available for your phone. Believe me, once you start using apps on your phone, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them!

Thanks For Visiting!

I trust that this article has answered any questions that you might have had about what apps are and how they work. If you have any friends who think might benefit from this article why not tell them about it.


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