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Apps vs. Websites

What’s the difference between an app and a website?

At EMC, I’m a designer embedded in our training and development group. I work with a bunch of non-designers, and that’s a question I get fairly often when talking about some of the stuff I work on.

I’ve often struggled to find a simple, clear way to answer that question. When you say “app,” most people think of something that you download to your phone, iPad or computer. When you say website, they think, “Something you access from a browser.” That, of course, ignores web apps like Gmail, Flickr, Twitter and so on.

What those sites all have in common, though, is an interactive element, so you might say, “Well, an app is something you interact with, while a website is more static.” But that’s not really right, either, because websites can have interactive elements like weather widgets. The Every Time Zone app is just a list of locations and their current times and dates. You can adjust your local time, but that’s about it.

You could argue that apps provide utility, which is what differentiates them from websites. But a site like Wikipedia or IMDB has loads of utility. Meanwhile, an app like Angry Birds provides heaps of fun, but that’s not the same as utility.

What do you think the difference between an app and a website is?

Noteworthy Reactions

An app is like an ATM – it allows me to replicate some (or all) of the functionality of the bank retail environment where ever (almost where ever) I am. It gives me more options for “where” I interact with the service. That said – I do think the distinction will disappear as apps become the primary interface for any web-based service/product. If your service runs everywhere (mobile/tablet/browser) is there really a home base? - Paul Hebert