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The app-driven life: How smartphone apps are changing our lives

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Soloway actually prefers regular computers. Websites never look quite right shining through a screen the size of a baseball card. Typing e-mails never quite feels right when she taps on the phone's smooth glass surface. But life extends well beyond the reach of her desktop.

"I remember when I got my iPhone," she says. "So many people told me, 'It will change your life.' But I was really hesitant. Now, I don't know if I could go back. My phone is just a lot more convenient."

Millions of Americans now rely on pocket-sized computers to shop, play, read, date, learn, work out, take photos, and find directions. These apps – shorthand for software applications – are the heart and soul of smart phones.

The app-driven life has kick-started a new computer revolution – one that has spread faster and become more intimate than any before.

The world has adopted smart phones and tablets 10 times faster than it embraced personal computers in the 1980s, twice as fast as it logged into the Internet boom of the '90s, and three times faster than it joined social networks in the new millennium, according to the app-tracking firm Flurry.

Svelte, intuitive hardware helps propel the movement, but this new era in consumer electronics really started a year after the debut of the original iPhone. In early 2008, Apple opened the digital doors to its App Store, an online marketplace for programmers around the world to sell their own mobile apps.

While Apple guarded the gates – demanding that each app be submitted for review – it kept a wide berth. Programmers for the iPhone and Google's competing Android line could take advantage of tools unavailable on most personal computers: touch screens, cameras, tilt sensors, compasses, location tracking, cellular Internet connections, and the fact that people carry these devices with them at all times.

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