Apps: an abbreviation of ‘application software‘ – pieces of software that are generally very easy to download and install and that are often very specific in the task they are programmed to do.

At the moment we most commonly associate apps with mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets, but the term ‘app’ and app download/purchase environments (eg. App stores) are also making an appearance on the Chrome browser and as part of the latest version of Apple’s Snow Leopard operating system.

Some may argue that it’s just a change in the wording furniture, what used to be called ‘widgets‘ are now apps – for example the Opera browser has had them for years, and FireFox has long had what it terms extensions and plugins.* These add-ons have added to the services and tasks that can be done within the browser. I could also note here that the term ‘desk top app’ has been with us for a few years too.

Be that as it may, the popularisation of the term and understanding of ‘app’ – which we should probably look to Apple for – has meant that these bits of software that add to our experience of the internet have seen a significant growth and are changing the way we access, use and utilise the internet.

As part of Social Media Week, Tom Smith from Global Web Index has published research on what this means for social media, which makes for interesting reading. In particular, how apps and mobile usage are already matching PC usage for accessing social networks, writing blog posts and updating microblogs such as Twitter (see slide 14).

* This may well be notional rather than a precise understanding of the difference between these terms, so please do clarify significant differences in the comments below.