Steve Jobs and Apple revolutionized how we understand communication and information. He completely shifted our society. It was his products that transformed, in a way, how we think and behave. And it’s this last point that is the most fascinating. Behavior. Our behavior is different simply because of a small, handheld device. This was enough to drive Utterly Orange to ask: How else has our behavior changed as a result of technology? And in particular, which applications have leveraged the mobile platform and really changed our world?
We surveyed over 100 Vanguard employees on this topic and received, as you might imagine, a plethora of opinions. I’ve done my best to collate those opinions into something more chewable. However, one can’t help but wonder what makes one app’s utility more important than another’s? Yelp has blown away Zagat as the number-one restaurant-reviewing site/app. Foodies live and die—and, likewise, restaurants—by Yelp and its five alluring stars. But is it more transformative than, say, the flashlight app? Did you ever think you’d be bringing your phone camping in order to properly navigate?
So while I’d like to say our list is exhaustive, it’s limited and inherently subjective. And oftentimes it’s like we’re comparing Apple and oranges.
Banking & Financial Apps
The day that I heard I could deposit a check without having to go to the bank, I pretty much flipped. Or transfer money to a friend simply by typing in her email address? Who knew? There was a time when one would scan through thousands of ticker symbols in order to see if his Kodak stock went up a half point or not. Today it streams in real-time on the home screen of my phone.
These financial apps may not be the sexiest, but they certainly have changed our behavior.
Honorable mention goes to mint.com and its highly intuitive, highly beautiful app. Connect with every financial account you maintain (if you have the gumption) and see your net worth. From setting budgets to tracking your spending trends, your eyes will awaken to how you spend a dollar. You can’t help but want to modify your behavior.
We’re living in a content-driven world, and Vanguard is a content-driven girl. The Information Age is a tired expression, but it’s still undoubtedly accurate. Our survey suggested Vanguard has an overwhelming enthusiasm for apps that curate content.
That said, our sample comes from digitally savvy New Yorkers who have the subway free-time and industry knowledge to be interested in these sorts of apps. However, you cannot deny how we think about information today. It’s completely different from ten years ago. And without getting too grandiose on you, think about what this says about our evolution as human beings. I can barely fathom the implications.
Honorable mention goes to Flipboard. It’s intuitive. It’s user-friendly. And it works. Our senior management team loves it––and if they get it, you will.
Genius. There’s no other way to describe the utility of these apps other than to say simply: Genius. Want to know if that protein bar isn’t actually filled with carbs and sugar? Scan it. Want to sign up for a chance to drive a Lamborghini? Scan it. Want to know if that product was made in a child sweatshop factory in China? Scan it. Boycott it.
Never in a million years did someone think a telephone would have this sort of function. And yet, here we are. Honorable mention goes to Fooducate. This handy app scans your food and assigns it a letter grade. Skippy peanut butter gets a C? The app suggests a more healthful, A-rated alternative.
Regardless of whether you hate all its ads or not, Shazam is 100% a unique game shifter. You can call it an app, but it’s an invention that has revolutionized our relationship with the sound waves coming out of your bar’s speakers. The minute you even hear the concept behind this app, you’ll get goose bumps.
Honorable mention goes to apps like Spotify and Pandora, which have changed radio forever. They’re like the news-aggregate apps from above, but for the soul.
Google is a category of its own. One cannot put down in writing the impact that its array of products have had on our organization, our culture, and our world. Your phone tells you when to turn left and when to turn right. Thanks, Google Maps! Your phone tells you that the phallic object in the middle of Buenos Aires you’re viewing is the Obelisco de Buenos Aires. Thanks, Google Goggles! And on that note, what does “Obelisco” mean in English? Obelisk. Thanks, Google Translate!
Google Now, a new app designed to adapt to where you go and what you do to predict behavior, is creepily amazing. But wait, there’s more!
I won’t go on, but this stuff is incomprehensible. And there are plenty of honorable mentions for me-too products, but we all know they’ve just been modeling themselves after Google.
These five categories and their top apps were chosen because of their utility and surprise. Did we think that we’d be talking to people using video someday? Well, yeah. It was in Back to the Future Part II. That isn’t to say it isn’t impressive; it really is. Social apps and game apps have altered how we interact with peers and friends. We are social beings, and these apps have encouraged social behavior. As I said in the beginning, this list is certainly nowhere near exhaustive––if you had to suggest another, what app has surprised you most?
Author: Eric Swenson