Most mobile devices are offered with various programs bundled as pre-installed software, like a web browser, email client, calendar, mapping program, and a program for buying audio, other websites, or even more apps. Some pre-installed programs can be removed by an ordinary uninstall procedure, thus leaving more storage area for desirable ones. Where the applications does not allow this, some devices can be frozen to get rid of the unwanted apps.

Apps which are not preinstalled are usually available through supply platforms known as program stores. They started appearing in 2008 and are generally controlled by the owner of the mobile operating system, such as the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Phone Store, and BlackBerry App World. However, there are independent app shops, for example Cydia, GetJar and F-Droid.

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Some programs are free, while others have to be bought. Usually, they're downloaded from the platform to your target device, but sometimes they may be downloaded to laptops or desktop computers. For apps with a price, generally a percentage, 20-30% goes to the distribution provider (such as iTunes), and the rest goes to the producer of the app. The same program can therefore cost a different price depending on the cell platform.

Apps can also be set up manually, such as by running an Android program package on Android devices.

Mobile apps were originally offered for overall productivity and information retrieval, including email, calendar, contacts, stock exchange and weather information. However, public demand as well as the access to developer tools drove rapid expansion into other categories, like those handled by desktop software applications bundles.

As with other applications, the explosion in amount and wide range of programs made discovery a struggle, which in turn led to the creation of a large variety of review, recommendation, and curation resources, including sites, magazines, and dedicated online app-discovery services. In 2014 government regulatory agencies began attempting to control and curate apps, especially medical apps. Some businesses provide apps as an alternative method to deliver content with certain advantages over a official site.

Usage of mobile programs has become more and more prevalent across cell phone users. A May 2012 comScore study reported that during the previous quarter, more cellular subscribers used programs than browsed the net in their devices: 51.1percent. 49.8% respectively. Researchers found that utilization of mobile apps strongly correlates with consumer context and depends upon user's time and location of their day. Mobile programs are playing an ever-increasing part within healthcare and if designed and incorporated properly can yield many advantages.

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Market research firm Gartner predicted that 102 billion programs would be downloaded 2013 (91 percent of them free), that might generate $26 billion in the US, up 44.4 percent on 2012's US$18 billion. From Q2 2015, the Google Play and Apple stores generated $5 billion. An analyst report estimates the program economy generates earnings of more than $10 billion per year within the European Union, while over 529,000 jobs have been created in 28 EU states on account of the growth of the app marketplace.