Favorite Types of Smartphone Applications

Learn how your phone can become a multitool and entertainment on the go.

Smartphones include a handful of useful utilities out of the box, such as a Web browser and email client, but one of the best parts about owning a smartphone is downloading and installing new apps in whatever areas interest you. Some apps work well in conjunction with computer programs, while others perform tasks only possible with the portability and built-in hardware of a mobile phone. Games make up a huge portion of the mobile app market: In 2012, 70 percent of the top grossing iPhone apps were games, according to a report on the Business Insider website.

Computer Companions:
Some mobile apps share their names and basic functionalities with existing computer programs. This category includes productivity software such as Microsoft Word, media players such as VLC, and most popular Web browsers including Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Opera. These apps work well in tandem with their desktop counterparts, but they have fewer features. Word for iPad, for example, can open desktop Word documents but can’t run a grammar check or display multiple windows side by side. Chrome, a Web browser known on the computer for supporting user-made add-ons, does not support extensions on Android or iOS, but the mobile versions can share bookmarks with the computer version.

Phones as Multitools:
Thanks to the range of hardware integrated into most smartphones — camera, compass, microphone and accelerometer — mobile apps can replace many single-purpose gadgets and tools. By using the accelerometer, for example, an app can take the place of a spirit level when you hang a picture. Photography apps not only snap pictures but also apply corrections and filters without involving a computer. For musicians, an app can listen to an instrument playing through the microphone and assist with tuning.

Out of the House:
Apps designed for travel and mapping fit mobile phones especially well, due to the portability of smartphones and their integrated Global Positioning System receivers. Road navigation apps, including Apple Maps and Google Maps, provide turn-by-turn directions by using the GPS to locate the phone’s position. Travel guide apps are handy when you book tickets or look for vacation spots, hotels and restaurants. These apps replace bulky tour books and stay up to date better than printed materials. Even the GPS itself can serve as entertainment through geocaching, a worldwide treasure-hunting and nature-exploration game. Participation used to require a pricey handheld GPS receiver, but the receiver in a smartphone can take its place, lowering the cost of entry.

Gaming on the Go:
Although handheld game platforms such as the Game Boy have been around for decades, smartphones brought mobile gaming into everyday life by removing the need to carry an additional device. According to Statista, the mobile gaming industry is expected to bring in $11.4 billion in revenue in 2014 alone. These games range from quick distractions while waiting in line — think “Angry Birds” — to full-fledged video games tied to existing franchises such as “Call of Duty,” “Final Fantasy” and “Mass Effect.”

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