With about 400,000 apps available for Smartphones and news ones added daily, there is an app for almost everything, from losing weight to finding a job.
Can any of them help us keep our New Year's resolutions?
Yes and no, says Ananda Mitra, professor of communication at Wake Forest and the author of several books on digital media. He says an app can make things simpler, but it is not going to change habits.
Essentially, an app is just like any other goal-setting tool to increase personal efficiency, he says. About everything that an app can do, can be done without the technology, he says, but the greater convenience of using apps may make it more likely to follow through with plans for self-improvement.
What apps are doing is centralizing into one single digital tool many of the functions we used to handle with a diary, a checkbook or a printed calendar, says Mitra. "People want to do things without thinking too much about them. With one touch you can pay a bill or help your child prepare for the SAT."
Experts give pros and cons of apps for common New Year's resolutions.
1. Lose weight, get healthier:
Popular apps: Lose It!, Calorie counter, My Fitness Pal, Food scanner, RunKeeper.
Gary Miller, associate professor of health and exercise science, gives pros and cons of weight loss and fitness apps.
Pros: The key output for nutrition apps that help with weight loss would be calories, fat, carbs and protein. By being aware of the content of the different foods, people can make better choices, whether at home, at the grocery store, or in restaurants. If a person has an assigned calorie budget, the apps help them know how many calories they have left for the day. It gives them immediate feedback and they can make adjustments as they go. With a counselor, they have to wait to see them before they know how they are doing. You can get programs on the Web too, but carrying a laptop is much more cumbersome than a phone or mobile device.
Cons: The main limitations with nutrition apps and weight loss apps are estimating portion sizes and finding the food in the database.
2. Save money and keep a budget:
Popular apps: Groupon (for sales and deals), Mint (budgeting), Homebudget.
Sherry Jarrell, associate professor of business, gives pros and cons of money-saving and budgeting apps.
Pros: Budgeting is absolutely essential and it's a huge step: the mere fact of budgeting. People (and businesses) are always shocked to see where their money goes, and it always helps them to economize. So, any tool that helps with that is a good thing, without any doubt. People like apps (from what I've seen and from the data) so they will use them if they are easy and logical.
Cons: There are bad apps out there, so just being an app is not enough, it has to be a good one. A budgeting app still requires recording income and expenses and is only as good as the consistency and accuracy of the information you input.
3. Build a stronger family:
Popular apps: FamilyMatters, Surf Balance (safe browser for kids), Skype, Ebuddy (instant messenger), Foursquare (location software).
Samuel Gladding, professor of counseling, gives pros and cons of apps that can help families build stronger connections.
Pros: Smartphone apps are a medium that can get us to goals. Think of Lewis and Clark and the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. They discovered the territory by using the apps of the day – boats, horses, etc. Each day on the journey with their goal of reaching the Pacific was one of new discovery and involved a new (snow shoes) or well-used app (horse). So, as families discover how to be closer and communicate better, apps can be good tools. The tools are constructive when family members are brought closer together.
Cons: Tools can be neutral or even destructive if they sit idle or are used in ways that are not beneficial, such as spreading gossip.