In just over a decade since Apple and Google opened their own app stores, there are now over 6.3 million apps available for smartphones. A part of the reason is that, for many users, their phone is now their computer, their video and still camera, and even the mobile platform on which they run their businesses.
The smartphone of today has the computing power of the supercomputer of yesterday, and almost anything can be accessed from a mobile device. Countless companies have apps of their own, and we have come a long way. However, this technology comes with both good and bad aspects.
In truth, smartphone addiction is affecting both our mental and physical health. Even manufacturers like Apple acknowledge this, and work to keep people informed of how much time they are actually spending on their phones and how they are spending that time with the new screen time function in the latest operating system update.
As we enter a new year, and people resolve to spend less time staring at their phones while downloading more apps than ever before, here are some of the good, the bad, and the ugly effects of mobile apps.
On a positive note, apps do some great things for us. We can do everything from finding the right legal advice when we need it, to catching up on the latest Netflix series. We shop online without having to open our laptops or going even further back, sitting down at our desktop computers. We save money with coupon apps and rewards programs, and with rapid shipping options, we don’t even have to wait for the things we want.
Physical stores are getting in the game too: you can order your groceries online and pick them up curbside at the store or, in some cases, have them delivered, all without walking around the store or grabbing those impulse purchases at the checkout counter.
Apps also have a positive impact on the environment. We are less likely to run to a store and shop, but instead shop online. When we do drive, apps tell us the optimal routes, even including ways to avoid traffic delays. This not only saves us time, but it saves fuel as well.
Fitness apps inspire people to workout more, and when coupled with wearable devices like smartwatches or fitness trackers, they make people more aware of the time they spend sitting, and even offer alerts for when to move and how to achieve fitness goals.
Apps can even be used to limit screen time, keep track of our children and our other devices, help us find a ride when we need one, and even pay the parking meter from blocks away. There are mobile apps designed to keep us and our homes safe, monitor our health and share that information with our doctors, and help us keep in touch with those we love around the globe.
With millions of apps to choose from, there are some great things mobile apps do for us. Unfortunately, that is not the entire story.
With all of those good things come some bad ones too, and they, unfortunately, parallel each other. Shopping online is good, but it is having a big impact on retail stores as well. Shoppers are used to fast shipping and instant gratification, and are less likely to shop with smaller sites who cannot offer those perks.
Walking around the grocery store is also good for you, and many of those impulse buys are important to the bottom line of grocery stores. While ads offer some of these at checkout, there are definite cons to online grocery shopping.
All of those apps have to be stored on servers somewhere, and those take energy that impacts the environment. While many data centers are being powered by green energy, not all are. We also must power our devices, and that takes energy as well. Along with this is the temptation to get the newest device out there, meaning old devices must be recycled or they contribute to the huge amount of technology being thrown away in the United States every year.
When it comes to fitness, apps help us track our steps and calories burned, but at the same time technology makes it easier for us to be sedentary. We don’t even have to get up and walk to our computers to order take-out thanks to mobile apps, and ordering junk food from the couch has never been easier thanks to apps like Uber Eats and restaurant specific apps.
Screen time is another issue. Most people, even kids, spend about 7-10 hours a day looking at screens, and it is bad for our eyes, our mental health, and our physical health. Yes, apps can help you limit screen time, but often they are the reason people spend so much time looking at their phones in the first place.
The bad side of mobile apps are, for the most part, things we can control. Limiting our use of apps and our screen time, as well as making an effort toward changes in our behavior, can turn those disadvantages around. Unfortunately, there is an ugly side to apps that is even worse.
There is an ugly side to mobile apps. Because there are so many apps out there, hackers see an opportunity to offer you a fake app that takes over your device, steals your information, and even records your location and passes it along to others for nefarious reasons. If you’re not cautious, and with the right permissions, app developers can activate your camera remotely, use your phone to hack other devices in your home, and more.
This can be prevented with reasonable security measures, but there are other ugly sides to apps as well. For example, while dating apps offer couples a new, and often refreshing way to meet, the rise of the popularity of dating apps has also resulted in a rise in STDs.
Social apps help you stay in touch with relatives and friends far and near, but also offer new opportunities for hackers and stalkers. Online bullying, especially among teens, is a common side effect that is truly ugly.
Are mobile apps good or bad for us? The answer is a little of both. With awareness, proactive measures, and a little common sense, we can work to mitigate the downsides. As long as there are apps and app stores, there will always be some that are good, some bad, and even some ugly ones out there.