Essential Smartphone Apps

By Tracey Dowdy

There are over a million apps to choose from in both iTunes and the Google Play store and, for many of us, choosing which apps are worthwhile can seem daunting. In addition, all smartphones come with native software, so how do you know if your navigation or messaging app is the best for your needs?

Thankfully, more and more developers are creating apps that are multi-platform, making it possible to use a PC and an iPhone but still have your apps available on both devices. I could have used the example of someone with a MacBook Air and an Android phone but those people don’t exist; they’re mythical, like unicorns or one-size-fits-all clothing.

So whether you have recently purchased a smartphone or you are looking to get more from the smartphone you already have, here are a few apps that will help you become more productive


As smartphones have moved away from single function devices and evolved into fully functional palm-sized laptops, it has become essential to ensure adequate file storage and accessibility of data. DropBox is arguably the best known cloud storage service: it works across multiple mobile platforms; it offers 2GB of storage for free; plus, you can earn up to 500MB for each referral you get (up to 18GB).

When it comes to storage, the new kid on the block is Copy by Barracuda. Also cross-platform accessible, Copy offers 15 GB of storage for free, while paid plans are also available. One of Copy’s best features is that they “split the bill” on shared files, since in reality the file is only hosted once. Instead of a 5GB file being counted against each person in the group, Copy splits the tally among the various users making your storage go even further.


WhatsApp (free for iOS, Android, Windows Phone) has quickly become the world’s most popular messaging app. Once downloaded, WhatsApp uses your phone number and integrates with your contacts to allow you to send texts, pictures, voice and video messages to individuals or groups. It also enables you to texts overseas with no additional cost or changes to your cell phone plan.

Phone Locator

If you’ve ever experienced the cold dread and blind panic of losing your phone, get some help because that’s not healthy! Once you’ve talked to your therapist, you need to download Find My Phone (free for iOS) or Device Manager (free for Android). Both apps allow you to locate your phone and, if necessary, remotely lock it down or wipe it completely, so your personal data doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.


Google Maps is my hands down favorite app for getting from A to B. I don’t have the science or test results to back it up but I know I am missing the gene that should provide me with a sense of direction. I could get lost walking around my kitchen table! Google Maps is user-friendly with a streamlined interface that not only offers a choice of routes by car, bus or walking, but maps in real-time, so if traffic is backed up or there’s an accident, the app will re-route you. The app features turn by turn instructions either on-screen or by voice, Street View if you’re in an unfamiliar area and don’t know what the location actually looks like, and the capability to book a reservation through integration with Open Table.

Waze, also owned by Google, takes a different approach by crowdsourcing much of the information, so up to the minute traffic data is more accurate. Waze also connects to social media accounts like Facebook and Foursquare and recently incorporated an Amber Alert feature. Personally, I use Google Maps if I’m headed somewhere I’m not familiar with, especially if I’m walking, and I use Waze to avoid traffic delays.

What apps do you use that you just can’t live without?

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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