For most of us, the time we spend driving or riding to and from work is, in a sense, ‘dead time.’ It’s hard to make use of those minutes (or hours) that we spend lurching through traffic on our way to the places we go every day. For many of us, the American commute seems to be getting longer and more unpleasant, and it becomes easier to obsess about making something out of all of that seemingly wasted time.
In an effort to help out the average commuter, mobile app makers are building a range of smartphone tools for the owners of iPhones, Androids and other high-end devices. These apps offer different ways to multi-task and stay productive while you’re commuting.
Apps and driver safety
Although apps are made for all sorts of commuters, there are very specific restrictions for drivers. State statistics on distracted driving are showing how dangerous it is to use to a smartphone, cell phone, or other device while on the road. Although there’s been a lot of change in the app market, and app makers are designing the best programs for easy touch-screen use or hands-free enjoyment, the ideal is still a complete focus on the road. With that in mind, drivers and those traveling via public transit should use these tools differently.
If you’re driving, try doing a quick app check before you start out on your commute, or when your vehicle is pulled over. If you’re using public transit, you can tap away throughout the trip. But both kinds of commuters can benefit from apps that help promote better time management, or serve up entertainment for the trip ahead.
Easy entertainment apps for drivers – streaming music
An audio streaming app can really liven up a dull drive, and many different entertainment applications are available for top devices. For drivers, music players can be particularly helpful. You probably know the big names here already – Pandora, Spotify, Slacker, etc. For another worthy choice, check out the Car Music app, available for $1.50 on Google Play. This is one of many apps designed to enhance safety for music-loving drivers by simplifying controls. Using this type of app, drivers can set up a playlist from their device and get great tunes to make the drive go by faster – without having to mess with complex controls along the way.
Entertainment apps for passengers
For passengers, watching videos or movies can help commuting time fly by. In addition to “platform agnostic” apps like Hulu Plus and Netflix, there’s Plex for iOS, available for $4.99 in the iTunes Store. For Android, check out the free Hubi app running streams from 39 different platforms, or the aptly named Streaming Movies, also free, that lets users look up movies by genre.
Time-saving and money-saving apps
If you’ve ever forgotten where you parked in a giant parking lot or parking garage (hey, it happens) then Car Locator will be well worth the $3.99 you’ll pay for it. Just save your location when you park; then when you leave, fire up the app to find your car. For your iPhone, try Find Your Car with AR .
When it comes to saving money, Gas Buddy (available for Android and iOS) is universally loved. According to the creators of this app, gas prices in a given area can vary by 20 cents per gallon or more – so why pay more than you need to? Find the cheapest gas in your immediate area, or by city or Zip Code, with just one tap.
Travel and transit apps for transit users
For passengers or anyone able to look up directions on an iPhone, there are some third-party apps that help show you the best way to get to a particular place at a particular time – including a free app called Transit that can show public transit opportunities for any given route. Another free app, HopStop, offers detailed directions and real-time transit info for more than 600 cities worldwide. If you’re using public transportation and have an Android device, try Transit App.
If you’re the social type, you might like Waze for Android, which gives you voice-guided navigation combined with a wealth of community-generated, real-time traffic and road info. Harness the power of other drivers to get where you want to go on time, while avoiding accidents, delays, speed traps, and other road hazards.
Apps to get you out of your car
If your car’s temporarily out of commission or you just want to drive less, you’ll find no shortage of apps to help out. Maybe you’d like to try commuting by bike – Map My Ride is a great place to start, and it’s available for your iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry. Having a late night out and need a ride home, or looking for a lift to the airport? Try Lyft or Uber – these car-for-hire services have apps for both Apple and Android devices.
Another way passengers or public transit commuters can pass their travel time is by checking up on business or personal projects while on the go. Apps like Evernote help make this easier – Evernote, which has spawned a collection of copycat applications, lets you capture different types of information –documents, notes, photos, recipes, websites, audio clips, and more – then access them from any device, making your commute a little more functional. Or, money-minded individuals can check up on their finances or brainstorm investments with Mint.com, which has a desktop version as well as iPhone and Android apps.
Of course, these aren’t the kinds of things you want to do while driving. If you’re going to be behind the wheel, consider doing a quick check of your apps before you get in the car. Then you can do a little creative brainstorming while you’re fighting it out on the expressway. It’s all about making the most of your commuting time.
We hope these sample apps will spark other creative ideas to make your commuting time more fun and more productive, without taking away the most important task you have as a driver – your focus on the road. Enjoy the commute, and remember, stay safe out there.