Man reading newspaper // Photo credit: rawpixel unsplash

This post is an edited version of an article by Valerie Mocker, published in the in January 2018.

For 80% of us, our smartphone is a constant companion. Globally, people spend an average of 2 hours per day using apps, from online banking to dating. More and more of these applications manage not only to entertain, but also benefit society. There are many examples: apps which improve the treatment of dementia or make agriculture more sustainable and apps which teach children to do their sums or enable citizens to take part in political processes. There are plenty of reasons to take a look at 10 apps which really improve our lives.

An app which saves lives

For the unfortunate victims of a stroke or heart attack, minutes can make the difference between life and death. Apps such as London’s pioneering GoodSAM and Germany’s Mobile Retter simultaneously alert emergency services as well as trained, registered first aiders in the local vicinity. Ambulance services also use GoodSAM to notify responders of nearby emergencies via their smartphones, allowing them to arrive quickly, often before an ambulance, in cases where every second counts. The app also lists details of more than 23,000 defibrillators, directing responders to locate one whenever possible.

Picture source: GoodSAM website

Dr. Smartphone

Seeing a doctor can be tricky, particularly in rural regions. Apps like babylon help by allowing patients to have digital consultations with doctors, for example via video chat or phone. In the UK, doctors can even create prescriptions and have them delivered to patients via courier or set up face to face visits. The app also has a range of functions aimed at promoting healthier lives, such as measuring fitness and counting calories.

Picture source: Babylon Health website

Uber for breastmilk

Every year between 250,000 and 500,000 babies in Europe are born prematurely. Access to breastmilk is vital for raising the chances of survival and normal development. The problem is that many mothers are not able to breastfeed at that stage. In these cases, the World Health Organisation recommends the use of milk from other women. To this end, there are milkbanks, which collect milk, test it and ratify its safety. To identify donors more quickly and easily, organisations such as the Hearts Milkbank are developing an app. In true sharing economy fashion, this creates a platform that allows mothers to offer and request milk.

Learning how to write and read can be childsplay

In schools, smartphones can be far more than a distraction in breaks – they are increasingly used as teaching aids. Millions of students use apps like Sumdog to learn maths, writing and reading in multiplayer games. It was developed with education experts and adjusts its difficulty to age and aptitude. At the same time the app can help teachers track their pupils’ progress through regular updates. To motivate students, the app awards pupils coins, which they can use to unlock further features and content.

Picture source: Sumdog website

AI versus plant pests

Digitalisation is highly pervasive, as demonstrated by many innovations in agriculture. One interesting example is the Plantix app. The app can use a phone’s camera to recognise more than 240 different diseases and parasites affecting plants. Farmers lose up to 30% of their harvest to pests, so the app can be a big help. The app is powered by machine learning, which uses a culmination of results to improve identification and become more effective. It is made by the German startup PEAT, which also develops solutions for managing fields and greenhouses. The firm has won the award StartUp-Impuls, and Plantix itself was awarded the Innovationspreis (Innovation Award) at the important computer trade fair CeBIT.

Picture source: Google Play

App based saving

Saving is not always easy. Many of us know the feeling of spending more of our income than we intended. While saving for retirement is becoming more important, studies show that young professionals in particular do not save enough. Apps like savedroid help their users by allowing them to set their own saving rules. These ‘rules’ create automatic ‘triggers’ that transfer small amounts of money into a savings account. A possible trigger would be the app transferring some funds or every time they enter the gym. This allows users to save effortlessly.

Picture source: savedroid website

Fighting resistant disease

Bacteria resistant to antibiotics are a major challenge for medicine in the 21st century and an important priority for the G20 and WEF. Already, more than 250 individuals die every minute, due to ineffective antibiotics. One of the reasons for this is the overuse of antibiotics, which then lose their potency. Part of the solution to this problem, is better public awareness about antibiotic resistance especially in young people. Superbugs is a mobile game aimed at 11 to 16 year olds, which teaches users about the science behind this issue in a playful way and provides information about courses of action.

Training medics for emergencies – digitally

For medical students, working in A&E is challenging. Crucial decisions have to be made under intense time pressure. Lectures are not always the best way to prepare for this when in the “real world”, lives are at stake. The app Emerge provides a solution to this dilemma by allowing students to learn new skills in a complex simulation. Developed by PatientZero Games in Hamburg in cooperation with the Hamburg-Eppendorf teaching hospital and Göttingen University, Emerge models different time-sensitive, emergency scenarios with realistic, tangible parameters. This allows students to become more familiar with the procedures of an emergency room. Such familiarity both reduces levels of anxiety and the likelihood of errors.

Picture source: Emerge game website

An app preserving memories

In our ageing population diseases like dementia affect more and more people. Apps such as MindMate are designed to guard against them and provide treatment options. MindMate has over 350,000 users. It offers interactive games to stimulate cognitive abilities, based on current scientific research into dementia and mental health. It also offers a wide range of advice about how to stay mentally and physically active, from nutritional information to exercise. People with Alzheimer’s or dementia can save different kinds of information about personal preferences and interests to counter degrading memory.

Political participation at a click

For many citizens, politics can sometimes feel irrelevant and unrelatable. However, digital technology is being used to motivate citizens to participate in democracy. An example from Paris shows how this can be done: Madam la Maire j’ai une idée (Madame Mayor, I have an idea) is a participatory budgeting platform. A budget of €500m is available to fund proposals made by local citizens through the platform between 2014 and 2020. The process is highly transparent: suggestions are discussed publicly, both online and offline, to ensure that participation is wide and includes those who are less digitally connected. The funding is also allocated against quotas to ensure that spending reaches all areas across the city regardless of their socioeconomic status. The initiative is very successful: over 100,000 participants have submitted thousands of ideas and over 400 of the suggestions have been accepted and financed. They range from more recycling stations and school gardens to collaborative workspaces for students and entrepreneurs.