It would be easy for me to say smartphones are the technology I’m most thankful for. After all, we use them for pretty much everything: photos, texting, email, and more. They’re often the epicenter of our lives, crucial to keeping order. Without them, we feel empty, anxious, in a fog.
But for all of the industry’s advancements, I wanted to dig deeper and highlight a specific part of the smartphone experience: apps. A phone is a phone, comprised of glass, metal, storage and other materials, all expertly engineered into a beautiful and powerful object. But without apps—apps I regularly rely on to help me maintain some semblance of control—I’d be lost.
Over the past several years, we’ve heaped praise on companies like Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft for innovations in mobile and personal computing. But simplify these devices down to the core experience, and they’re kind of boring. Apps allow them to reach their fullest potential; they’re what keep phones in our hands 99 percent of the day. They’re why you see people with their necks painfully craned while shuffling down city sidewalks.
Whenever I set up a new phone to review, I typically download 10-20 apps without hesitation. But if we dig even deeper into what I use most, I’d say Wunderlist, Square Cash, Sunrise, Instagram and 1Password are right up there. They make my life easier, plain and simple. Well, technically Instagram doesn’t make my life easier, but I love it for a number of different reasons, not least of which is being able to see photos from around the world at any given moment.
Sunrise and 1Password are pretty self-explanatory, and I’m partial to Square Cash because you can send and receive money directly into your account, rather than having to withdrawal money in services like Venmo and Google Wallet. Wunderlist, meanwhile, is something I’ve only just started to use heavily, taking advantage of its shared lists and folders when my girlfriend and I go buy groceries and other items. Run out of paper towels? Add it to the list. Need more veggies? Add it to the list. You get the idea.
Many of the things I do through these apps can be done without a phone; I can write down notes on paper, or withdraw money and physically hand it to someone. I can also put a calendar on my living room wall, or write down all of my passwords in a notebook. But these are all (mostly) outdated ways of doing these. Apps are designed to make our lives much more convenient, and I’ve reached a point where I can’t live without them.
After we’re done praising phones for their gorgeous designs and high-density displays, let’s remember that they’re ultimately made great by the developers who support them. Developer support is incredibly important to the popularity and survival of a platform—why do you think BB10 and Windows Phone have such small slices of the mobile market pie?
I don’t think we spend enough time appreciating what these app can do. Yes, there are plenty of awful apps out there. But for all the fart apps and freemium games, there are some wonderful gems; the Wunderlists, Instagrams, 1Passwords, and more. These help us remember, connect us with friends and family, and keep private information securely stored away. And they’re just a tap away, available at our fingertips whenever they’re needed.
It’s great we have fingerprint sensors, wireless charging, and other advancements. This is the future technology that sell phones. But without apps, these super phones would be like high-end cars without gas. Fun to own, but ultimately meaningless.