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Cover Story

The app-driven life: How smartphone apps are changing our lives

Our app-driven life: Smart-phone apps are becoming the north star for millions of Americans who use them to navigate through life –  shopping, playing, reading, dating, learning, and more with their fingertips.

By Staff writer / January 27, 2013

The app-driven life is the subject of the cover-story project in the Jan. 28 issue of The Christian Science MonitorWeekly.

Carl Wiens illustration

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Worcester, Mass.

"There's an app for that" is more than just Apple's marketing mantra. Apps have become an American lifestyle.

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"I'm using my phone when I'm sleeping," says Amanda Soloway. Every night, Ms. Soloway turns on an iPhone application called Sleep Cycle and tucks her smart phone into bed with her. The app monitors her sleep patterns and wakes her at the optimal moment – within a 30-minute time frame she has selected.

Before she's out from under the covers, she's checking the weather (another rainy day in Seattle) and connecting with her world via Facebook (photos from a dinner last night) and e-mail (some fellow University of Washington students want to push back today's meeting).

Once she's out the door, she plugs in her headphones and hunts for good walking music in SoundCloud. The jukebox app pulls up a few tracks from the DJ duo Poolside and streams them over her phone's cellular Internet connection.

As she dashes between classes for her master's in business administration program, Soloway's iPhone calendar app vibrates 10 minutes before important appointments.

She has more than 100 apps on her phone, each serving a different purpose. She deposits checks through the Bank of America app, finds bus schedules through OneBusAway, passes time playing Bejeweled, compiles grocery lists through ZipList, texts with her best friend through WhatsApp, and edits her photos with any of 18 different photography apps.

Soloway actually prefers regular computers. Websites never look quite right shining through a screen the size of a baseball card. Typing e-mails never quite feels right when she taps on the phone's smooth glass surface. But life extends well beyond the reach of her desktop.

"I remember when I got my iPhone," she says. "So many people told me, 'It will change your life.' But I was really hesitant. Now, I don't know if I could go back. My phone is just a lot more convenient."

Millions of Americans now rely on pocket-sized computers to shop, play, read, date, learn, work out, take photos, and find directions. These apps – shorthand for software applications – are the heart and soul of smart phones.

The app-driven life has kick-started a new computer revolution – one that has spread faster and become more intimate than any before.

The world has adopted smart phones and tablets 10 times faster than it embraced personal computers in the 1980s, twice as fast as it logged into the Internet boom of the '90s, and three times faster than it joined social networks in the new millennium, according to the app-tracking firm Flurry.

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