Back when there was no internet, cell phones, or other portable devices there was only hardware and software, computer programs that ran on the hardware.
As more software became available it became divided into categories: operating systems, drivers, utilities, and applications. Applications were programs that were designed to do a specific task like word processing, spread sheets, graphics, etc.
With the arrival of the internet a specialized application called a browser was needed to access all the sites on the internet.
When smart phones and other mobile devices arrived, the size of applications became important, both due to the size of the hardware devices and the processing power that could be incorporated in them. The device size limited the screen size so less information could be displayed and limited the storage that could be made available. Also, the use of mobile devices took on a different complexion. These devices were more suitable to the use of information than the generation of information, having no full keyboards or other suitable entry devices.
Since the mobile processors and operating systems were different from desktop systems, software designed for desktops wasn’t easily portable to mobile systems, and browsers had to be adapted to the small screen, limiting their utility for mobile use. As a result, specialized compact applications became the software of choice for mobile systems. The name was soon abbreviated to apps and online app stores opened to distribute the apps to users. These app stores were the brainchild of the mobile operating system companies like Apple and Google, rather than the hardware manufacturers. In the desktop world applications were sold by the developers directly to the customers, some at quite high costs. Mobile apps, in contrast, were mostly given away free or at nominal costs, the difference being recouped from advertising, since the users were individuals, prime prospects for directed commercial advertising on mobile devices.
So, you might ask, why isn’t there an app store and apps for PCs and Macs. Well, there are. You probably just haven’t heard much about them because it’s a relatively new phenomena. Where you previously had to chase around to different internet sites to find the maker of an application, you can now go to places like The Best Free Applications and Intel AppUp to find what you want. The former allows most Windows apps to be downloaded from a single internet site, whereas the latter is an Intel program for Windows PCs similar to iTunes for Apple apps. In this case apps are downloaded and maintained with the AppUp program.
Earlier applications for desktop computers were expensive but few in number compared to the app market, which is low cost and high in number. So you will find only a few apps out of hundreds or thousands that are useful to you, making app stores a better way to market them.
Looking ahead, the wide variety of devices and operating systems is causing a rethinking of the app market. Some industry analysts are predicting a move towards device independent apps. The applications development industry is already moving in that direction with operating system suppliers providing development kits to app developers to make it easier for them to develop applications that will run on any kind of hardware.
Microsoft is taking a big step with Windows 8 to bridge the gap between mobile and stationery systems. The new operating system will have versions that run on both mobile and stationery systems and with touch, mouse, and keyboard user interfaces. So, you might want to experiment with Intel AppUP to see how apps work with your current PC. You will find some very useful apps from suppliers like Accuweather and nNews that will save you from chasing around to internet sites. But, there are a plethora of apps that are only of interest to a limited spectrum of users. Intel has done a good job of categorizing the apps to guide you to what you need. Intel also has a blog that covers new activity in the AppUp world.