What is the difference between an “app” and a “program”?

Typically it is best to think programs and apps as the same thing with different names, just like cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons which technically these three storms are the same thing. So an app and program are just the same thing with different names.

In common usage though you will never call a something running on iOS or Android a program, or something on Windows, Mac OS or Linux an app. These terms seem to reflect on the environment they run on. And they install differently. A program usually requires an installer and will install various files needed on the computer for it to work. An app on the other hand will usually be (or at least feel like) one file downloaded. It will have one icon. And deleting it will be just to tap on “the cross”. A program will include and require an uninstaller in order to get rid of the various files installed all over your hard disk. Programs in general are pretty messy looking things.

One must also think of what usually becomes an app. For the most part we never install anything to do, for instance, Gmail on a computer. Add-ons to browsers may be the in-between case for some functionality, but we still use online email services through a browser. Whereas on an iPhone your email will be an app. In other words some things which are usually done on a browser on a computer will be done by an app in mobile devices.

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8 responses to “What is the difference between an “app” and a “program”?”

  1. Rule of no equivalence. Different form differing meaning. Bollinger.


  2. It is ridiculously silly to insist on new terminology for what is essentially the same thing on a different OS.


  3. Wander, let’s just say when a slightly new way of doing something comes along a new set of terminology comes with it.

    Programs=PCs. Apps=smartphone/tablets.


  4. Asher, I don’t see how your comment helped … you just confused things further. We non-experts at IT need explanations that simply and clearly explain things. What was the point of your message? How does it help explain the difference between an App and a Programme?


  5. Asher,
    Thanks for the comment and clarification. Yes, the world is a far more complicated place today than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Trying to keep up has been hard.


  6. Well when you use Gmail on your browser you’re actually using an email client program which is installed somewhere, just not on computer. There are different stages in cloud computing one of which (the lowest stage) is cloud storage, but there is also something called SaaS (software as a service) in this case an email client that you can use through your browser. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_as_a_service


  7. Thanks for the comment.

    I recently acquired my first OS X MacBook Pro and found the implementation different to the Windows environment. Firstly, having an Mac App Store meant there was tighter integration between OS X and iOS software. And secondly, yes, what once was done by a browser is sometimes done with a dedicated app on the OS X.

    This still is not the case with Windows software.

    So I would say the program paradigm is still very much part of Windows but not with Apple.

    So you have hit the nail on the head here.

    My post was a pre-OS X experienced post so…


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