Every once in a while, you come across a smartphone app that you tell your friends they must download. It could be a game about irritated fowls, a music service that has every song -- plus Gangnam Style! -- or a button that, when pressed, faithfully recreates the sound of flatulence. Apps like these are "must-download" in the sense that they bring you such pleasure or glee that you want to pass the happiness onto a friend or family member; because, really, who doesn't love a good fart button?
There is another category of must-download app, however: These are the apps that can transform your smartphone into a super-powered, money-saving, geniusphone device -- but only if you can convince your friends to download them, too. The more people you know that have them, the better they are.
How you convince your friends to acquire these essentials, and how much physical force you deem necessary, is of course up to you. But if you want to make your life easier, and perhaps save a little cash, there are certain apps you must make sure are on the smartphones of your friends, family members, co-workers, and anyone else you might communicate with on a regular basis.
Put on your convincing face, and get ready to proselytize: These are the apps you need to force your friends to download right now.
WHERE"S THE MONEY, LEBOWSKI?
You know the scenario: You're out to dinner with a group of friends, and when the check comes, no one has change and everyone insists on paying with a twenty. You end up putting down a credit card for the whole meal, and everyone promises to "pay you tomorrow" or "the next time we all hang out."
And then, of course, everyone forgets, and you're down several six-packs-of-beer-worth of money.
Several new apps, many of them from large banks, offer the ability to make payments from smartphone to smartphone; but the one that you and your friends need to download is Venmo. With Venmo, you can ultra-securely hook up your profile to a bank account and use that account to send small dollar amounts to other Venmo users; the app makes paying someone back for dinner as easy as sending a text message. And even better than actually getting reimbursed by your buddies, Venmo does not charge a fee for either the payer or payee to use the service, so long as you're taking money from a debit card and not a credit card.
Venmo apps are available for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry -- tell your Windows Phone-toting friend to bring cash. If you can get your friends onboard, you'll be Venmo-ing each other every night, which is not as dirty as it sounds. Best of all, no one will harbor any long-lingering resentments about that five bucks you may or may not owe them.
FREENESS OF SPEECH
If you own a smartphone, you're probably paying out the wazoo for cell phone minutes and text messages; and if you go over your allotted amount of either, you might need a loan, a second mortgage, or a lucky lottery ticket to pay off your carrier.
Instead of spending all your pocket cash hoping for the Powerball, though, you could just make your most oft-contacted pals download a few apps that make regular phone calls and text messages all but free.
First, you should know that text messages are to mobile carriers what popcorn is to movie theater owners: a commodity that's cheap to maintain but whose price is drastically marked up compared to its cost.
Unfortunately for carriers, the various app stores and markets offer plenty of alternatives to text messages that provide the exact same service for free. You and your friends should consider a service like GroupMe or WhatsApp, both of which allow you to send the equivalent of text messages, including group messages and multimedia messages, over a mobile network. Get your heavy texters onto either of these apps and you won't have to worry about overages -- or moving to a higher texting plan -- again.
Next, for the Chatty Cathy in your life, we have free voice chat services like Skype and Viber. Both cost nothing to use, are available on all of the major mobile operating systems, and run in the background of your phone, meaning you can receive calls and messages while using other apps or while your phone is in your pocket. If you know you're in for a long conversation, you might as well shift it over to one of these apps and avoid eating up your minutes.
A third option is the poorly-named "walkie-talkie" app. Yes, the main function of these apps does mimic a walkie-talkie: You press down a button and immediately transmit a voice message to a friend. Then, it either automatically plays through the friend's speaker, if they have that function enabled, or comes through recorded, like a voicemail.
The best of these apps, however, does more than that, letting you send text messages and photos in a convenient conversation stream as well. Voxer is probably the most well-known and widely used of these walkie-talkie apps, and for good reason: It combines the functions of Skype, GroupMe, and, uh, a walkie-talkie into a single, free app. It's an efficient, self-explanatory way to keep in touch with family and close friends at a moment's notice and save a couple bucks on your phone bill.
WHERE ART THOU? OH, BROTHER
Speaking of sending your location, another app I recommend forcing on your friends like a spoonful of mushed-up carrots on a stubborn child is the location-sharing app. This class of apps comes with its privacy concerns, I know -- you might balk at using an app that sends out a signal of your current location at all times. If you can get past your heebie-jeebies, though, location-sharing with close friends does have its immediate benefits.
My favorite use comes from a small app called Mimble, which uses you and your friend's positions to mathematically answer the age-old conundrum: "Where should we meet?" With Mimble, you send in your GPS location, and your friend sends in his or hers; the app finds the geographic center of those two locations and recommends a spot -- a bar, restaurant, hotel, whatever -- close to that area. It's a single-use app, but one that can come in handy the next time you're disputing who should have to travel farthest to hang out. The answer: Neither of you!
And, oh yeah: If you want to check on your friends to make sure they're actually on their way, make them enable Google Latitude on their phones. Though it can drain battery, it will keep you updated on their whereabouts, and will definitely let you know if they really will "leave in five minutes."
Chances are, they won't, but that's okay: You can make them Venmo you a dollar for every minute they make you wait.
APPS FROM THIS ARTICLE (functionality/price may vary by operating system):
Venmo (mobile-to-mobile payments): [iTunes] [Android] [BlackBerry]
GroupMe (group messaging): [iTunes] [Android] [BlackBerry] [Windows Phone]
WhatsApp (group messaging): [iTunes ($0.99)] [Android] [BlackBerry] [Windows Phone]
Skype (voice chat): [iTunes] [Android] [Windows Phone]
Viber (voice chat): [iTunes] [Android] [Windows Phone] [BlackBerry]
Voxer (walkie-talkie): [iTunes] [Android]
Mimble (meet in the middle): [iPhone]
Google Latitude (location-sharing; feature of Google Maps on Android): [iTunes] [BlackBerry] [Windows Phone]