The definition of the word "App" is definitely evolving, [edit: at least from the perspective of us not-highly-technical people]. Before mobile devices there were Applications-web browsers, MS Office, or other games and programs installed on your computer. Mostly people called them programs. With the recent explosion in mobile technology, people developed a sense that an iPod Touch can do much more than play music, just as an iPhone or Android is more than a phone. This expansion of the devices' usefulness was due to the availability of Apps, mini-programs you can install on your phone to interact with the internet in focused ways (as the Pandora music App or Weather Channel does), or conduct off-line computing with Apps that don't need to be connected to the Internet continuously (say, Cookie Doodle or Angry Birds). At about the same time, we started to hear the term "Web App" which I think of as a website you can use to create something and save that data, such as Kerpoof or Blabberize, also known as "Web 2.0 tools." One advantage of all these types of Apps has been that they are focused and largely free or inexpensive.
So what's up with the expansion of the term "App" to mean something that you install on your computer? I am not sure what I think of this yet. First of all, let's take the Google Chrome web browser's "Apps" and "App Store" that popped up a few months ago. This is a screenshot of what I have installed in my Chrome browser so far:
My sense so far is that these Chrome Apps really are just bookmarks! The Google Reader App brings you- guess where- to Google Reader! No difference in the user interface. Some Apps, like Autodesk Homestyler, bring you, again, to an interactive website that has potential for a language project. Others, like PBS Kids Play, bring you to an entry portal for PBS content that you have to pay for. WHY would we do that at this point, when the PBS Kids website itself is so rich that I haven't even begun to mine it?
So this brings us to the Mac App Store, which as I said JUST opened. Surely not that many developers have undertaken the translation of their iOS apps to the Mac platform. Yet. And on first glance it has potential- these are real Apps, small, focused programs that will live on your computer and do a specific thing. I started with Twitter, which was free, and looks like this:
Well, I am not sure I want Twitter to look like this when I am sitting at my computer. If I wanted it to look this thin, I would look at it on my iPhone; on a large screen, in my opinion, it should take advantage of the real estate (Tweetdeck or the web version itself do fine for that). Other offerings in the education section of the Mac App Store included Stack the States (I have to review that one later), a fun geography game, and a cute paper doll app, Dress Up. Neither was free, but I am not opposed at all to paying a few bucks for a good app, and much more for one that has extensive clinical application. What I didn't like to see in the Mac App Store was the education section of the software aisle at Staples, and unfortunately I kinda did. There was a whole bunch of, to rename discreetly, "Bear Teaches 1st Grade Skills!" type of stuff, at hefty prices, and a reincarnation of the Living Books Series, which was nice to see for sure, but again perhaps not at this price point:
I suppose I am spoiled. People do need to make money. But I think as educators and clinicians we can do better given our limited funds, and I do trust/hope that the Mac App Store will do better also in time. But for now I will return to browsing the App Stores on my iPhone and iPad, and keep looking for free web sites for you to use! And let's keep calling an App an App.