Apps on mobile devices

What’s an app?

An app is an abbreviation for “application.” It’s a piece of software that can run through a web browser or offline on your computer, and on a smartphone phone, tablet or other electronic devices, including smart TVs and smartwatches. Apps may or may not have a connection to the internet.

An app is a modern term for a software application, and it is most often used in reference to a mobile app or a small piece of software that runs on a website. It’s typically used to describe anything that isn’t a full-fledged software program, but even that line has become blurred.

There are three main types of apps: desktop, mobile, and web.

Desktop apps are usually much fuller than mobile apps and consist of all the features of a program, whereas the mobile equivalent is a simpler and easier-to-use version.

Web apps might be full of features too, but they have to leverage the capabilities of the internet connection and web browser program, so while some are heavy-duty and can perform well like mobile or desktop programs, most web apps are lightweight for a reason.

Web apps tend to be found on devices running the Chrome Operating System.

Apps come in two types – Native and Third Party

Native apps are applications that are created and distributed by the device manufacturer or software creator. Some examples of native apps for the iPhone are iTunes, Message, and iBooks.

What makes these apps native is that the apps are created by a manufacturer for that manufacturer’s devices, often using proprietary source code. For example, when Apple creates an app for an Apple device such as an iPhone, that app is a native app. For Android devices, because Google is the creator of the Android mobile operating system, examples of native apps include the mobile version of Google apps such as Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Chrome.

Just because an app is a native app for one type of device, that doesn’t mean there can’t be a version of that app available for other types of devices. For example, Google apps have a version that works on iPhones and iPads which are offered through the Apple App Store. Those are considered third-party apps on iOS devices.

More examples of third-party apps are the Firefox web browser or the Microsoft Office suite (though if you had a Windows Phone, Office would be a native app). To make things complicated, the Gmail app, because it’s developed by Google is considered a native app, but an app devised by a third party that gives you access to Gmail is a third-party app.

In very old devices there used to be an issue with apps that were not properly closed when they were finished with – They used to drain resources and drain the battery. For years now any app that is not active is controlled by the operating system to minimise this issue.

Where to get apps from

The best locations to get apps is from either the Google Play Store (for Android) or the Apple App Store.

It is possible to get apps from other sources but beware as some of these sites may have apps that contain malware – Getting apps directly from Google and Apple give a greater level of comfort that they are free from malware.

By design the apps for these stores are pre-installed on your mobile devices.

How to download an app

Android

  • Open the Google Play Store App
  • Search for the app, or app type you want (note that the screen will display suggested apps)
  • The search results will display a more targeted set of results
  • Before installing the app, read the feedback from other users to ensure that it’s what you want. If an app only has feedback from more than 6 months old, then this might suggest that it hasn’t been updated for a while and may not work as well on newer devices.
  • Check whether the app is free, pay up front or has in-app payment. Free apps often have advertisements – This allows the developer to provide the app free of charge, as they get paid each time an advertisement appears. Whether the apps are too intrusive is a decision you will have to make. Apps with In-app payments means that you get basic functionality, but advanced features have to be paid for. Some payments, for apps, are one off and some are subscription.
  • If you are happy with your selection then tap install (or if a paid app, tap the amount shown) and follow the instructions to install the app.

Whilst apps are scanned when they are uploaded to the [lay store by developer, checking for viruses or malware, Google have built in another security feature into the Play store on your device.

This feature is called Google Play Protect, and every day it scans the apps on your device to ensure they are still safe. This scan is done automatically every day without user intervention.

Play Protect is on by default, but you can always check its status to ensure it’s working.

  • Open the Google Play Store app
  • Tap the menu icon) three horizontal bars) and select Play Protect, then select settings
  • This will show you the status of your device

iOS

Getting apps on Apple devices is very similar to the process on Android, with the exception that it doesn’t have the Play Protect application built into the app store. However, apps are still scanned when they are first uploaded to the Apple app store. Additionally, the restrictions that Apples places on what an app can do restrict the likelihood of it harming your device.

  • Open the ApplePlay Store App
  • Search for the app, or app type you want (note that the screen will display suggested apps)
  • The search results will display a more targeted set of results
  • Before installing the app, read the feedback from other users to ensure that it’s what you want. If an app only has feedback from more than 6 months old, then this might suggest that it hasn’t been updated for a while and may not work as well on newer devices.
  • Check whether the app is free, pay up front or has in-app payment. Free apps often have advertisements – This allows the developer to provide the app free of charge, as they get paid each time an advertisement appears. Whether the apps are too intrusive is a decision you will have to make. Apps with In-app payments means that you get basic functionality, but advanced features must be paid for. Some payments, for apps, are one off and some are subscription.
  • If you are happy with your selection then tap install (or if a paid app, tap the amount shown) and follow the instructions to install the app.

Permissions

When you install an app onto your device, you will often be asked to give it permission to do certain things. This request usually happens before the app is fully installed.

It’s important to read what the permission request is asking and decide does it make sense. 

For example – A camera app will need permission to use the camera on your device, it will need permission to use the light (as a flash possibly) or it may need to access the devices storage to file the picture. It may even ask for your location (so when you look at the picture in a year’s time you can find out where it was taken). These all sound reasonable.

What about other apps? I have known weather apps who has requested access to my location (fair enough) but then asked to access my contacts???? 

On more modern devices, both Android and Apple, you may now get occasional reminders about the permissions an app has – This is mainly regarding location. The question asks you; do you want the app to track all the time, only when you are using the app or never track you. Be aware though, that the decision as to which option you choose can have the outcome of the app not working (if you tell a weather app not to track you then you won’t get an accurate forecast).

Organise Apps on your Device

After a while, the desktops of out mobile devices become crowded with all the apps we have downloaded. After a while it can become difficult to find an app you are looking for. Luckily Android and Apple have a cure for that.

Android

Android is very configurable and in theory, you could have just a couple of apps on your desktop or all of them (as opposed to Apple where all apps are on the desktop like it or not). 

Your first decision is to decide what apps you want on the desktop. To remove an app, but not uninstall it, is to long press on the app (more than a couple of seconds should do) and slide the app up with your finger. You will notice, at the top of the page, two options appear:

  • Remove – This removes the app from the desktop but doesn’t uninstall it. Just drag the app over the word remove.
  • Uninstall – takes the app off your device completely. You will get a prompt to confirm this is what you intend to do.

The next option is to organise your apps into folders (also called grouping). This way you can group similar apps, for example news apps, together. How this is done depends on the age of your devices.

Newer Devices

Long press an app and then drag it so that it is over the app you want to group it with. Keep repeating this until you have all the apps you want in that particular group.

To name the group tap on the group until the folder opens then tap where it says Unnamed Folder and type the name. Once you have finished just tap elsewhere on the screen

Older Devices

On some older devices, the above method won’t work. Long press a blank space on the desktop and select Create Folder. Name the folder then drag the apps, as above, that you want to group into the folder.

Apple

Creating a folder group on Apple devices is similar to the way it’s done on Android devices (the newer method). Unfortunately, all apps are placed on the desktop irrespective of whether you want them on there or not.

On devices with a home button, just long press on an app until all apps start to “jiggle”, then drag the app or apps you want to create a group with. When you are finished just tap the home button.

On devices without a home button

  1. Touch and hold any app on the Home screen, then tap Edit Home Screen.

The apps begin to jiggle.

  1. To create a folder, drag an app onto another app.
  2. Drag other apps into the folder.

You can have multiple pages of apps in the folder.

  1. To rename the folder, tap the name field, then enter the new name.
  2. Tap Done 

Android and Apple Devices

If after time you decide that you no longer want to group a set of apps, just drag all the apps out of the folder. Once you only have removed all but one of the apps the folder is automatically deleted.

Delete an app

It’s important to note that if the app you a removing from your device is part of a subscription, removing the app from your device doesn’t end the subscription. You must log into your account, with Apple or Google, to end the subscription.

On Apple and Android devices, for a few reasons, there are some apps you cannot remove. On Apple devices no matter how long, you long press the “jiggle” will not start.

On Android devices either nothing will happen, or the confirmation message will say do you want to delete all the updates for this app. Removing the updates only is not a good idea as this leaves the app compromised if the app is attacked by malware.

Android

The simplest way to delete an app is to long press on it and drag it up the screen. At the top of the screen you will see ‘Uninstall”. Drag the app over the word and you will get a prompt to ensure that you really mean to remove the app from your device – Tap yes or cancel as appropriate.

Apple

There are two ways to delete an app and these depend on the age of your device.

On older devices, with the home button, long press on the app you want to remove. Eventually all the apps will start to “jiggle”. Tap the “X” in the top right-hand corner of the app and you will get a prompt to say are you sure you want to remove the app. Tap Ok and the app is removed – Note that the other apps on your device continue to “jiggle”, just tap the home button.

On newer Apple devices, without the home button, long press the app. From the menu that appears tap Delete App. Than tap delete again.

Update Apps

In theory apps on both Android and Apple devices should update automatically, but it is a good idea to check, from time to time, that they are updating.

It’s important to keep the apps on your device up to date, there are numerous reasons why updating is a good idea:

  • Improve the security of the app
  • Add a new feature
  • Remove a feature that wasn’t popular
  • Fix something that wasn’t working to well
  • The app may need to be updated following a major update in the devices operating system.

Whilst most apps are very small, frequent updates can eat into your phones data allowance, therefore unless you have a very good data plan with your phone contract, you should only download update over a secure WIFI connections (such as at home – Coffee shop WIFI is not considered safe. As a rule of thumb if the password to the WIFI network is openly displayed in the shop it’s not secure).

Android

Before you look to download an app or update, first confirm your device is set to only do this over a WIFI connection.

Open the Google play store app. Tap the menu (three horizontal lines) and tap on settings. You will see a couple of options available (note that what you actually see will depend on your device’s manufacturer, but it will be like that shown here).

  • Tap App Download Preferences and select Over WIFI only
  • Tap Auto-update apps and select the option Over WIFI only. On some devices this option may not be available, and the only options available are any network or don’t auto-update. In this instance I’d suggest selecting don’t auto-update and just do it manually.

Irrespective of whether you allow auto-update of apps or do a manual check, it’s very easy to check what apps need updating and start the updates yourself.

  • Open the Google Play Store app
  • Tap the menu (three horizontal lines) and tap My apps and games
  • You should see a list of apps that have updates available (sometimes there aren’t any), you then have two options
  • Tap update all,
  •  Or
  • Update each app one at a time

On occasion the download may stall. There are a number of options:

  • Press stop, the update all. If this fails,
  • Restart the phone and when you get back into the update section of the play store, initially just manually update a couple of apps one at a time.
  • After these have successfully completed do update all for the rest.

Note that while an app is updating it’s best not to try and use it.

Apple

On Apple devices using iOS 12 and before, Apple has put in a control that means that if an app or update is greater than 200MB (MB is a unit of measurement of data – it’s an abbreviation for Megabyte) then you have to connect to WIFI to do the download. 

To give you an idea how big a mb is, 500 typed pages, with no images or graphics in them, is one megabyte.

On devices that run iOS 13 can override this setting (but bear in mind your contracts data cap).

  • Open the settings app
  • In the search bar at the top, type update.
  • From the results select App update
  • Scroll down the page till you get to the Mobile Data section.
  • Tap on App downloads, and from the menu select the option you require

On devices running iOS 12 or previous, tap the iTunes App store app on your device. At the bottom of the page tap the updates icon at the bottom of the screen. If an app needs an update, it will have an update button next to it (if there is more than one app needing an update you can select update all.

On devices running iOS 13 open the App store app. At the top right of the screen will be a head and shoulders icon. Tap on that, then with one finger pull the page down, to refresh it. Scroll down and you will see a list of apps that require an update. Select update all or update the apps one at a time.

If you have an issue with downloads, the usual solution is to restart the device. While apps are updating they are greyed out and will not open.

Today’s mobile devices are highly configurable to meet a users needs. This is also true of Apple devices even though they placed certain limits to the level of configuration a user can do.

The downloadable document, below, shows some suggested settings you can change to enhance the use of your device – A simple search, using a search engine, can also show other configurations that you can make. Remember, however, not to make too many changes at once in case you have to reverse a change.