If you get the chance, tune in to the History Channel’s 101 Gadgets that Changed the World, a program the network compiled in conjunction with the editors of Popular Mechanics. It’s a fascinating look at history in all new ways. For instance, the show suggests that the audio cassette tape was instrumental in the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, and that wristwatches helped make it possible for the Allied troops to be successful on D-Day.

Certainly, obvious game-changers such as the iPod, the calculator and the personal computer made the list. Still others, like the wristwatch, surprised me, though their influence on history is made clear on the show. Among the top 10 are the light bulb, the alarm clock, the rotary phone and portable air-conditioning, and even a cursory thought about your work day makes clear how different life would be without them.

At the top of the list - the gadget that most changed the world - was a smartphone. As a device that combines so many other game-changing gadgets - the personal computer, the Internet, radio, the telephone, Wi-Fi, and a calculator, to name a few - a smartphone is certainly useful. Yet I was unconvinced until two key points were asserted. First, as anyone who has ever owned one can attest, once you adjust to having a smartphone at your disposal, it’s almost impossible to live without one. Second, the smartphone will continue to be a gadget that changes lives because it has created an app-driven world. Now, it is no longer necessary to buy a dedicated device or even a full, multi-function computer program. Instead, “There’s an app for that!” Whether you want to play a game, listen to music, create music, share files - you name it - there is likely an app already offered for most smartphone platforms.

Do you have a smartphone? Do you use it for work? There are some apps that can help. For instance Munters AB, Kista, Sweden, has released PsychroApp, a psychrometric calculation tool that allows users to determine the thermodynamic properties of air on an iPhone or iPod Touch. App developers also have begun to introduce engineering tools for smartphones. Check out some of those currently offered in iTunes or the Android market, such as HeatXchanger, Steam, Gas Rating Calculator, Building Engineer’s Formulator or Gas Rate & Heat Input Calculator. Each costs $0.99 or more, but if after a careful review you decided to buy, you can put an effective tool in your pocket.

Linda Becker, Associate Publisher and Editor, BeckerL@bnpmedia.com