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What’s The Difference Between an App and a Software? – Explainer

by Felix Omondi

In today’s digital age, technology plays an integral role in our daily lives. Whether it’s for work, entertainment, or productivity, we rely on various digital tools to get things done. Two terms often used interchangeably are “app” and “software.” While they share similarities, they also have distinct differences that set them apart. In this article, we’ll explore the key dissimilarities between apps and software to help you better understand their roles and functionalities.

Apps: The Portable Powerhouses

Apps, short for applications, have become ubiquitous in the modern world. They are compact, user-friendly programs designed to perform specific tasks or functions. Here are some key characteristics of apps:

  1. Purpose-Built: Apps are typically created with a particular purpose in mind. Whether it’s a social media app for connecting with friends, a fitness app for tracking workouts, or a gaming app for entertainment, each app has a specific function.
  2. Platform-Specific: Most apps are designed to run on specific platforms or operating systems. For example, you have apps tailored for iOS (Apple devices), Android (Android devices), or Windows (PCs).
  3. User Interface: Apps often have intuitive user interfaces optimized for touchscreen devices like smartphones and tablets. They prioritize ease of use and are generally user-friendly.
  4. Downloadable: Apps are usually downloaded and installed from an app store or marketplace, such as the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. This centralized distribution makes it easy for users to find and acquire new apps.
  5. Frequent Updates: Developers regularly release updates to apps to improve functionality, fix bugs, and enhance security. Users are encouraged to keep their apps up to date to benefit from these improvements.

Software: The All-Purpose Toolbox

Software, on the other hand, is a broader term that encompasses a wide range of computer programs and applications. Here are the key characteristics of software:

  1. Versatility: Software refers to any program or set of instructions that can be executed by a computer. This includes operating systems (like Windows or macOS), productivity suites (such as Microsoft Office), graphic design software (like Adobe Photoshop), and more.
  2. Platform Independence: Unlike apps, software is not tied to a specific platform. Many software programs are cross-platform, which means they can run on different operating systems with minimal modifications.
  3. Complexity: Software applications are often more comprehensive and complex than apps. They are capable of handling a wide array of tasks and functions, making them suitable for both personal and professional use.
  4. Installation Options: Software can be installed locally on a computer or run in the cloud, depending on the type. Cloud-based software allows users to access it from anywhere with an internet connection.
  5. Licensing Models: Software often comes with various licensing models, including one-time purchases, subscriptions, or open-source licenses. These models determine how users can access and use the software.


In summary, apps and software are essential components of our digital world, but they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics. Apps are portable, platform-specific, and purpose-built for specific tasks, while software encompasses a broader range of programs, is often platform-independent, and can be more complex in functionality. 

Understanding these differences is crucial when selecting the right tool for your needs, whether it’s a quick and easy app for a specific task or a versatile software program for more extensive projects. Ultimately, both apps and software play integral roles in our daily lives, offering us a multitude of tools and capabilities to enhance our digital experiences.

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