What’s different about mobile apps?

The adoption of smart phones across a wide cross-section of the world has opened up a new arena for business application software: mobility.  This article outlines what’s different about mobile “apps” – and what remains the same as desktop PC software.

Small screen

In the world of media (such as movies), the big screen is in a movie theater, the small screen is a television set, the smaller screen is on a PC, now the tiny screen is on your mobile phone.  While you may be able to watch a movie on a mobile phone, you can’t expect to interact with business software the same way on this tiny screen as you do on a PC.

On the other hand, you’re not always sitting in front of your PC.  But your mobile phone is nearly always at hand, so this makes it attractive as an “always on” device that you can use for interacting with your business.

Since the introduction of the Apple iPhone, the underlying operating system software of the smartphone has had nearly all of the capabilities of a PC operating system, with one exception:  only one app can run at a time (up to now).

Aren’t mobile apps and PC applications the same?

Some characteristics of apps are the same as for PC.  For example, apps must be developed to match the specific operating system found in the smartphone.  This means that a iPhone app has to be deliberately designed for the Apple IOS system, an app for a Samsung phone has to be designed for the Android system, and so on for Nokia and Blackberry apps.

The people who develop apps have to use a development environment (a bunch of software tools) specific to the target OS, or else use an environment that is “cross-platform,”  so that their resulting app is adapted to the target OS.  There are many of these cross-platform tools.  If you’re interested in them, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_application_development .

Other restrictions

Each target operating system may have other restrictions, such as the requirement that all apps for the iPhone be reviewed and approved by Apple.  This makes the job of the developer harder if he is trying to make an app that runs on any phone.

A mobile app is software that runs on the phone and uses the underlying operating system to perform certain functions, such as interacting with the user and communicating with a website or the telephone system.  Some of the functions available in a smartphone are unique to the mobile environment, such as being able to find out where the phone is right now from the GPS.

Browser-based interactions

Just as with a PC-based user, one way to implement business functions is to use a browser to access a server offering the functions.  In fact, a server can implement both PC and mobile versions of its user interface in order to offer the same – or nearly the same – features to both PC-based and smartphone-based users.

One of the current developments in browsers is the HTML5 language, which allows a single software package to offer adaptable results that can make mobile/PC apps easier to move around to different phones and/or PCs.

Of course the designer of the user interaction has to be aware of the size of the screen.

What about security?

Whether an app is PC based or smartphone based, security is still an issue.  And moving the functions into a browser-based app in a server does not take care of all the security issues, either.  We’ll take up the question of security in a future blog entry.


For more information about app development, here’s a link to one of the commercial companies that do mobile application development.

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About John Levy

John Levy, Ph.D. is an expert in computers, software and storage who is available for consulting in patent litigation.

For more information, email him at johnlevyexpert.com, or call 415 269-4096.
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  1. John,
    I enjoyed your blog. I look forward too your blog on app security.