What is the difference between an app and a widget?

Apps and widgets have both been around for a long time in one form or another, but in the last decade, the terminology has changed to be as they are now based on Android and iOS devices. As these have become so commonly used, it’s good to have an idea of the differences between the two. They are both similar to one another, but not exactly the same.

What is the difference between an app and a widget?

To put it simply, an app or application is a full program that is made to fulfil a specific purpose or in some cases, multiple purposes. A widget is typically either a plug in or an extension either built into the phone or as part of an app, though technically they are a type of application too.

Whilst most people’s modern idea of an app is likely something they have on their iPhone or Android device, that isn’t where they originate. Though mobile apps are one of the main forms of apps nowadays, there are also desktop applications too. You can usually add apps to the homescreen of your iPhone.

widget-apps

And on an iPhone, a widget is a term used to describe a large app-style panel or shortcut to see the information within your apps. This is probably best explained by the weather panel, which shows the weather on your home screen without you having to click into the app itself.

Though the traditional definitions of the two words may vary a little. Here we’re going to look at what an app is, what a widget is, and what the differences are between the two. Hopefully this will clear things up for you in a world of technical jargon.

What is an app?

An app is a shortened way of saying application, and an application is essentially a stand alone program on a device. For example, if you look at your phone, each of the different icons on your home screen opens separate apps.

There are far too many potential uses for apps to list here but the best way I can summarise it is that they are individual programs on a device that meet a need of the user. If we take the camera app for example which comes by default with almost all phones it’s a program that allows you to use the phones camera and take pictures.

Something else to consider is that apps are something you can actively go and get, you can open the app store, search for a specific app or type of app then download the one that you think best suits your needs. When an applications stops working, you can pretty easily force stop the app – this isn’t something you should need to worry about with a widget.

What is a widget?

A widget is simpler in some ways to an app. That is to say it’s essentially a component of an app that is designed to either convey a certain piece of information or control an aspect of the app.

The best example I can think of is say you went onto an airline’s app, and they had a live map showing where certain planes are in the world. That is a widget.

Something else to consider with widgets is that they are not the sort of thing that you will actively look to get as a user, they are additions and plug ins that come along with other programs such as apps or even built into the default programs of your mobile device itself.

What are the differences?

The biggest distinction between these two systems is that essentially an app is a system in of itself whereas a widget is a component of an app. Something that an app uses to fulfil a need or goal the app determines.

As mentioned above apps are much more visible to a user than widgets, as an app is a program you either have on your device by default which have useful functions such as a calculator or even something you download from the app store to fulfil a need you have.

Typically, widgets are mainly invisible to us as they are either back end processes or seem to comes as part of an app. However, the more modern idea of what a widget is may vary a little in this regards (thanks, Apple).

Conclusion

In conclusion the differences, while the two systems are seemingly very different their goals are largely the same in nature so it’s understandable that there can be some confusion between the two.

Apps fulfil a need and do so as a stand alone program which can serve multiple purpose or a single purpose, this of course depends entirely on what kind of app it is.

Widgets however are mini programs designed to perform a single task or purpose. In addition to this, widgets can be a part of an app in the form of an extension.

Photo of author

Connect: Twitter

Author

Alex

By day he's an engineer and by night (well, evening or very early morning but night sounds way cooler) Alex runs the Apps UK ship. He has a keen interest in language, fitness & especially social media - he is always on the lookout for the next hot platform.

Read more from Alex

Apps UK
International House
12 Constance Street
London, E16 2DQ