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Some say it was the computer that changed everything. Others insist that it was the development of mobile and wireless technologies–the technologies that made computing truly portable–that are responsible for the fundamental change in the way we conduct our lives. It’s true that these things are important. For example, without computers and wireless technology, we couldn’t have the cloud or smart phones. And we certainly wouldn’t have the tool that is truly responsible for our ubiquitous and fundamental lifestyle shift: the app.

Remember: just because thing A is dependent upon thing B does not necessarily mean that thing B is superior to thing A…or don’t you remember what life was like when you had to print out MapQuest directions before leaving the house instead of simply plugging an address into your smartphone’s built in navigational app?

Sure, at their core, apps are just software programs. What separates them from the actual bulky software programs we download, though, is their portability and their efficiency. An app can run on any machine and only uses a fraction of the computing resources required by most modern software suites. They are the key to the lock that was keeping us chained to our desks and our laptops and at the mercy of other peoples’ schedules. For example, at the ADP AdvancedMD marketplace, we found a host of apps designed to help patients better connect with their physicians. Didn’t we use to reply on phone calls and appointment books for that?

There are apps for everything now. There are apps for cooking, navigation, shopping, congregating, talking, sharing, weight loss, productivity, medicine, games…heck, there are even apps built specifically to play music designed for pets.

So, if apps are the game changer, which apps have proven the most effective at shifting and shaping the way we do things now?

Navigation Apps

Raise your hand if you remember the time when you used to have to sit down at a computer and use sites like MapQuest or even Google Maps to find out how to get somewhere? You’d type in your address, the address you needed to find and then print out the set of directions the site gave you and pray that they would be correct and that you wouldn’t find yourself tragically stranded on an abandoned logging road in the middle of winter.

Today you simply stand still, tell your phone where you want to go, and it charts several courses for you to take to get there. If you’re using the Google Maps app, you can even choose to route your course via public transportation routes and schedules. If, as you’re following the directions the app has given you, something looks strange, you can choose to reroute from your current position.

Health

We’ve already talked about how easy it is for patients to connect with their doctors. Apps have also made it possible to have immediate access to our medical records and to share those medical records with other doctors and specialists. If, at your appointment, you can’t remember the name of one of your meds, that’s okay! Open up the app and find the name and your current dosage. These apps also make it easier for patients to find out the results of tests instead of having to wait for someone to call them (or their next visits). The apps are changing the way we approach doctors, our records and even how we get and check in for appointments.

Personal Finance

Yes, people have been able to quickly check a bank or credit card balance for over a decade now–since these companies found a way to automate balance requests via phone calls. With personal finance apps, though, you can transfer money between accounts, pay your bills, check balances and conduct a host of other financial business all with just an app or two. Budgeting apps, app alerts when balances reach a specific low point, etc. These are all great developments.

The way apps have truly changed our lives, however, is that they have given us automatic and simple ways to pay for things–without ever having to open our wallets. Apple Pay, for example, allows users to pay for real world transactions with their smart phones. Apps like Square allow vendors to take credit cards from anywhere with a good wireless signal. Soon we won’t need paper or plastic cards at all.

The fact is that apps have changed our lives in ways that computers and mobile devices could never have done on their own. The app has married the power of the two into a single handy piece of software that is nimble and versatile. If there is anything you want to do or know or experience, there really is an app for that.