How comfortable are you with the idea of banking from your smartphone? Would you use a bank app? Share your thoughts with others in the comments section on the next page.
The term "app" is simply a modern-day abbreviation of "application software" – something that most of us have been using for 10 or 20 years. Virtually everything we use on our computer – any text program, such as Microsoft Word, or an Internet browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer – is application software.
Since 2008, the term "app" has come to commonly refer to the pieces of software that we download onto our mobile devices (primarily smartphones like BlackBerrys and iPhones) that enable us to make calls, of course, and perform such functions as reading magazines, newspapers and books, writing grocery lists, checking the weather forecast, looking up words in the dictionary, checking flight and train timetables, searching maps for directions, connecting with friends (via text, chat, Facebook or Twitter) and balancing our household budgets. The list of functions is as endless as the human imagination – hence the there's-an-app-for-that catchphrase.
The famous (and much parodied) tagline is now trademarked by Apple, the company responsible for igniting the app craze in 2008 when it launched the App Store with 500 products. Within two-and-a-half years, the number of apps available for download from the App Store had reached 250,000. The number being downloaded each year was in the billions as early as 2009.
Page 1 of 5 – Want to know the difference between a website and an app? Find out on page 2.
"Apple was a pioneer in starting the whole smartphone apps ecosystem," says Gary Ng, the Vancouver-based founder/operator of Canada's most popular iPhone blog, iphoneincanada.ca. "Apple's App Store currently has over 300,000 apps available."
The key to the App Store's success (which has since spread to other mobile platforms such as BlackBerry, Android and Windows) is that Apple enabled anyone to develop apps and to submit them to the App Store for distribution. App developers could name their own price. Many are sold for as little as 99 cents, and an enormous number are offered for free. In the same way that shops and banks, for example, encourage customers to transact online, the same companies also offer their own branded apps for free.
The difference between regular websites and mobile-friendly apps
While the popularity of Internet-enabled mobile phones led to the inevitable introduction of simplified, easier-to-navigate "mobile versions" of existing websites, it was the advent of the app that truly closed the gap for smartphone users. Because they're customized solely for mobile devices, apps are more user-friendly than accessing a website on the tiny screen on your phone. "An app is a simplified version of a website," says Ng. "Since smartphone screens are smaller [than computer screens], dedicated apps just make sense. Think of iPhone apps as easy-to-read picture books, compared to a busy website that's bombarding you with information."
Aside from convenience and mobility, the bottom line is that apps are generally faster and more engaging and "fun" to use than interacting with a website. There are no web addresses to type in or account numbers to remember and no need to zoom in or squint your eyes so you can read. Only essential information is displayed, making it easy to accomplish mundane tasks, such as paying bills while you're waiting at the bus stop or standing in a queue, unproductive time when most of us would rather be elsewhere.
Page 2 of 5 – Concerned about the safety of your information while mobile banking? Find out why banking on your smartphone is just as secure as online banking on page 3.
As with websites, banking apps are password-protected and offer the same level of security. In fact, apps can be even more reliable than websites, according to Polar Mobile, a Toronto-based app-software developer responsible for building the official apps for CBS and Time magazine (not to mention Canadian Living). The developers' authenticity is verified before any apps are approved and distributed by Apple's App Store, BlackBerry App World, Android Market and Windows Marketplace, says Brittany McNena, Polar Mobile's communications officer. And the security used by financial institution apps is equivalent to the security of your bank's website, says Ng. The TD banking app, for example, is backed by the same security guarantee that TD offers on its website, which is a 100 per cent reimbursement for any unauthorized transactions.
Why it's better to push than pull
An important feature distinguishing apps from websites is the way individually tailored information is "pushed" to the user by the app rather than "pulled" by the user from a website. According to McNena, personalization options allow users to take ownership of content that gets delivered to them based on their interests. Apps are capable of notifying users of new content using the "push" functionality, while regular websites rely on users searching for content.
While website loading times can be an issue for all of us (even if we have a broadband connection on our computer), speed is doubly important for smartphone functionality, as the devices rely on a cellphone connection. Apps only pull in low-bandwidth content feeds, thus increasing the number of transitions [movement] between pages, says McNena. Websites, however, normally have longer loading times.
To top it off, the task of actually finding apps you wish to download is half the fun of it. The App Store, for example, is itself an app. You can search by keyword, popularity and release date, or browse as you would in a book shop. One step inside the App Store and you feel like a six-year-old in a candy store. No wonder then, that entire magazines are devoted to the phenomenon.
Page 3 of 5 – Discover 5 banking tasks you can do with a smartphone on page 4.
5 things I've done with mobile apps
Paid my bills.
App used: TD Canada Trust
The app remembers account, credit card and utility bill numbers. All I need to input manually is the amount that I want to pay.
App used: ING Direct
After every paycheque, I move money from my chequing account into a savings account.
Sent money to a friend and bought some American cash.
App used: PayPal
I emailed the funds directly to her via my PayPal account, and then purchased US dollars and deposited them into my Bank of America account – while the exchange rate was still favourable.
Checked available credit.
App used: CIBC
I needed to confirm that a recent payment had already reached my CIBC Visa card to ensure there was sufficient space on my card to handle an airfare purchase for my mother.
Planned my RSP contributions.
App used: MoneyTalk
To help forecast how much I'd need to contribute monthly to reach my financial goals, the app enabled me to calculate several scenarios based upon the time, amount, contribution frequency and interest-rate variables that I input. Similar apps helped me calculate my mortgage amortization.
Get the app: Check out the Canadian Living mobile app on your smartphone at m.canadianliving.com.
Page 4 of 5 – Discover 6 banking apps to help you manage your money on page 5.
6 banking apps
All of the following mobile apps are downloadable free of charge.
|CIBC||Desjardins|| ING |
|Scotiabank||TD Canada |
|Available for which devices?|| iPhone |
| iPhone |
| iPhone |
| iPhone |
| iPhone |
| iPhone |
|View transaction history||Yes||X||Yes||X||Yes||Yes|
|Transfer money between accounts||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Transfer money to others||Yes, via Interac Email||Yes, to other Desjardins customers||X||Yes, via Interac Email and Western Union||X||Yes, via Interac Email|
|Buying and selling investment funds||X||X||Yes||X||X||X|
|Locate ATMs and branches||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Note: Bank of Montreal, HSBC, Laurentian and National Bank do not currently offer mobile apps to Canadian customers.
This story was originally titled "Don't Worry, Be Appy" in the May 2011 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
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