Difference between apps, shortcuts, widgets

Discussion in 'Android OS' started by abenn, Sep 23, 2010.

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  1. abenn

    abenn Mobile Deity

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    I guess I understand the difference between an app and a shortcut -- presumably an app on my home screen is pre-loaded and running in background as soon as I power up my phone, whereas a shortcut will only activate the app when I select it. So, if I use shortcuts on my home screen I'll have to wait a second or so for the app to load when I want to use it, but on the other hand battery life will be extended because the apps aren't running all the time. Is that right?

    But what is a widget please?
     
  2. questionfear

    questionfear Google'd.

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    Sort of...a shortcut is just a link to the app itself that's handier than going into your app drawer to find it. An app running or not running in the background has more to do with the app itself than whether it's a shortcut or not.

    A widget is either a mini-app or an extension of an app that is always running on your homescreen. It allows for easy access to certain information (calendar, music, etc) without launching a whole app.

    I am sure Drillbit or someone with deeper understanding will come along shortly to expand upon this.
     
  3. Varjak

    Varjak Mobile Deity

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    I actually think this is an interesting debate; but ultimately one that will not matter much.

    After reading that the newest Internet Explorer can 'convert' a bookmark/favorite into an app-like icon on the taskbar (yes, we're talking computers instead of PDAs/smartphones; but the principal is largely the same), I wonder if there really is much distinction between an app, widget, or shortcut.

    As of now, I think too many things are 'app-ified,' especially when the 'app' is little more than the website itself, which many seem to be.
     
  4. Hook

    Hook Hookette's edgy lately

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    In the Android world:

    An app is a program.

    A shortcut can be an icon that launches a program from your desktop (no different than dragging the app icon out of the drawer) or it can launch an app with a particular set of parameters that will launch the program with a particular function cued up.

    A widget is really a desktop data feed (speaking broadly). So you can have a clock and weather widget or a widget that tells you the state of your wifi, or a task widgets or even a widget that resumes playing a play list without opening your music player. Widgets have settings and/or they have hot spots that when tapped allow you to either get more detail about the data or change the data. This may or may not involve the widget passing control to an app that is used to manipulate that data. However, the main point of widgets is to give you information without opening an app.
     
  5. Drillbit

    Drillbit Mobile Deity

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    Many apps are nothing more than data feed managers themselves. Practically apps that deal with social networking, news, weather, are managed datafeeds.

    There are basically two kinds of widgets you see in Android.

    One is a completely stand alone widget. They don't have a mother app, nothing. They are complete interactive apps by themselves. You can open them up and they can take over the entire screen and act like a full app. The primary example of this is Google's own Search widget. Clock widgets also belong to this group.

    The second kind of widget are those used in adjuct to an app. Thus, these widgets are in effect, secondary user interfaces to these apps. An example is the Facebook app.

    The difference between the two widgets is that in the first kind of widget, there is no mother app you can find when you check the application screen. The only way to access the functionality of the app is to click the widget itself.

    The second widget type is linked to a mother app, which can be found in the application screen and launched independently.

    We did not mention yet another kind of app that challenges the notion of app, since it does not exist in the iPhone, Symbian, Blackberry and Windows Mobile world. This is Living Wallpaper. Yet they have to be apps, because they have executable code, consumes CPU clock cycles, and has to be preemptively multitasked with its own independent process, and it is interactive with the user, meaning it has input, algorithm, and output. A mere wallpaper doesn't have executing code, its just a massive static data array.
     
  6. abenn

    abenn Mobile Deity

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    So, am I right in thinking that if I add an app to my homescreen using the + function, it will always be running whenever my device is booted up, but if I add the corresponding shortcut instead, the app will not be running until I activate it using the shortcut? Or, are all apps running as soon as I download them from the Market?

    I'm still a bit confused by what a widget is -- the distinction between it and an app seems to be very blurred. But as Varjac has said, it probably doesn't matter to most users.
     
  7. Drillbit

    Drillbit Mobile Deity

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    Well, even if an app doesn't have a widget, it can still be in the background running so long as you allowed it to have background notifications running. Not the entire app, what runs in the background is something called the app's Services. Services can be divorced from the app UI, and even other apps can use the Services of one app or another.

    if you want to find out more about Services, go to Settings, then go Applications, then open up Running Services.

    If background notifications are turned off, you can put a widget in the screen and it won't do much. Just endlessly display the data it has internally cached in.

    Even if you don't have an app shortcut in the homescreen, or a widget, an app, at least its Services, can run as long background notifications are enabled, and two, if another app desires to use these Services.

    A widget is really an independent app, but shares the same core Service as the main app.
     
  8. Hook

    Hook Hookette's edgy lately

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    Whether an app is running at boot-up has nothing to do with whether you have it's icon on your desk top. If the app has services that run in the background they will do so whether the app icon is on the desktop or in the drawer. Android, like Linux, does a pretty good job of managing these services.

    Widgets on the desktop are always updating their data streams if they can.
     
  9. abenn

    abenn Mobile Deity

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    OK, so what's the advantage, if any, of putting shortcuts on your desktop instead of the actual apps?
     
  10. Hook

    Hook Hookette's edgy lately

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    Depends on the shortcut. There isn't much advantage of putting a shortcut that just opens an app except that it allows you to change the name and the icon for the app. Some shortcuts open directly yo a specific action which I might use often. Having a shortcut that immediately dials the local police rather than opening my contacts or dialing is a lot faster in a non-911 situation, or I can create a shortcut to open a new note without having to open the note app first and then select new note. You know-- shortcuts. ;)
     
  11. abenn

    abenn Mobile Deity

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    Ahh, that explains it!

    I was looking at shortcuts in the same way they're used on a PC screen -- simply to open a program. But if they can also do specific actions like you've described, that makes them very useful. The manual says nothing about how to create a shortcut (so far as I can see), so I must experiment when I get my phone back from the repairer.
     
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