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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.

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Apps replace scissors and glue

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For a year and a half now, the Bancroft School in Worcester, Mass., has required each student from Grades 6 through 12 to own and carry an iPad. Apple's tablet computer plays a role in every class, says Elisa Heinricher, the administrator behind the private school's tablet program. Students dissect digital frogs for biology, read e-books in Spanish, and e-mail their English essays.

"The iPads have become such an integral part of our day that we don't even notice them anymore," says Ms. Heinricher.

In the four years since the App Store opened, Apple customers have downloaded 40 billion mobile apps; they downloaded 20 billion in 2012 alone.

This McDonald's-like number of customers served has caught some parents at the Bancroft School a bit off guard.

"My son had an assignment to create a collage," says Mary Ann Preskul-Ricca to a room of fellow Bancroft parents who meet with Heinricher once a month to keep on top of iPad trends and new apps. "Of course, I'm thinking, 'We need to get supplies and do we have glue?' He just says, 'No, Mom. There's an app.' " (The room laughs and there are several knowing nods.)

Ms. Preskul-Ricca is no Luddite. She uses an iPad regularly for work. "I'm a little slower at this stuff," she says after the meeting. "But it's just my generation. I grew up with paper and books."

On the other hand, eighth-grader Ashley Kiel seems pretty blasé about the new role iPads play in the classroom. She uses the tablet when it makes sense and sets it aside when the touch controls get in the way, such as when writing out math problems.

While Ashley and her classmates have never known middle-school life without tablet computers, Heinricher says the devices have transformed the school for the better. It removed the "sage on the stage" style of lecturing, empowering students to not only listen and absorb, but also see, touch, and create the lesson material. It's also cut down on textbook costs, wasteful paper use, and the weight of students' backpacks.

More than 600 school districts now require entire grade levels to have an iPad, including public schools in Texas, Utah, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

And according to a study commissioned by the Verizon Foundation, 39 percent of all American students in Grades 6 through 8 use a smart phone for homework; 31 percent use a tablet for homework.

A generation weaned on apps

Michael Nathanson wonders what the app landscape will look like when his 2-year-old son grows up. Already, Beckett is quite the smart-phone-savvy toddler.

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