Communing can be a real pain in the patootie, especially when you have to contend with extensive or unreliable public transportation. But downloading the right smartphone apps gives commuters the potential to convert the tedium into something far more productive, even educational. And, of course, ensure the safest, most efficient route between points. Consider the following — most available on the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry devices — when looking to sharpen those time management skills and maybe learn a few things along the way.
Audio and Video
Watch and listen to TED Talks about pretty much every subject imaginable, making that long commute home an educational multimedia experience.
- Savage Love:
Sex and relationship columnist and It Gets Better Project founder Dan Savage is unafraid to tackle the tough questions on his podcast in order to educate the world about topics it all too often sensationalizes and misunderstands; do remember that, given the nature of the material, he gets explicit!
- NPR Music:
America’s venerable public radio station allows users to watch videos and listen to songs and interviews with seasoned music veterans and up-and-comers from across different genres.
- NPR Podcast:
As with its music app, NPR encourages both live streams and archive browsing of some of its most popular programs in podcast form.
Netflix users can download the company’s official app and watch its extensive holdings of films, TV shows, and documentaries on the go.
Wildly popular Pandora creates customized radio stations tailored to individual users’ tastes, exposing them to new bands they may not otherwise hear about.
Millions of the Internet’s best videos about cats and lip-synching teenyboppers are now available on Androids, Blackberries, and iPhones around the world at the touch of an icon. Be afraid.
- HBO Go:
The app download may be free, but anyone wanting to take advantage of the thousands of streaming episodes of current and past HBO shows (like Game of Thrones, The Wire, and Curb Your Enthusiasm) must own a subscription to the channel first.
One of the most well-received audiobook applications available boasts a library of well over 28,000 classics that also just happen to be completely gratis.
- Khan Academy:
The vast majority of Khan Academy’s 2,700 educational videos stream for free on its amazing app that encourages audiences to learn a little something in their spare time.
Learn and Play
When looking for a little accessible commute reading that isn’t about plucky journalists in poorly researched BDSM arrangements (we’re looking at you, 50 Shades of Grey), give Wikipedia a chance. Getting lost in its pages for hours still stands as a new media rite of passage.
- Draw Something:
Build both creativity and social relationships in this ridiculously popular app that transitions Pictionary-style sensibilities into the 21st century.
eHow encourages users to learn new skills and tackle new projects by sharing crowdsourced instructions, which receive rankings based on their effectiveness and clarity.
- Google Sky Map:
Day or night, Google’s atlas of the night sky corresponds to wherever smartphone enthusiasts point their devices and displays what stars and other heavenly bodies sit directly overhead.
- Words with Friends:
If you’re looking for a sociable game with some degree of academic challenge, try Words with Friends and its vocabulary-nurturing Scrabble-esque setup.
Art lovers, regardless of their proximity to New York, use the Museum of Modern Art’s official app to learn about and view its impressive holdings, tour it remotely through multimedia, soundtrack virtual and in-person visits, snap and send photos, and more.
Instagram encourages budding young (and sometimes old) photographers and artists to snap their world and fiddle around with special effects to create some different interpretations of what they see in front of them.
- National Geographic:
Rather than staring out the bus or train’s window at the same old scenes, fire up this application and delve into the wondrous sights, sounds, and cultures our planet offers.
- Rosetta Stone:
Rosetta Stone offers up a few different programs for a few different smartphone platforms, making it easier than ever to pass the time building acumen in the world’s most common languages.
- MIT Open Courseware Lecture Hall:
MIT continues leading the world in open source classes and resources, much of which curious commuters can download, read, watch, and listen to as they head to and from work and school.
- NYTimes Crosswords:
The New York Times brings its legendary crossword puzzles to smartphones everywhere, offering both spelling and trivia challenges for the more solo-oriented puzzle fan.
- Math Quiz for All Ages:
Great for self-learners and students and professionals needing a little supplement, this seriously nifty resource has math quizzes for all skill levels, covering many different practices.
One of the Internet’s most popular digital magazines also happens to provide a handy app so fans can search the latest stories and commentary regarding culture, politics, and current events.
- BBC News:
BBC allows users to search the latest headlines based on geography and subject matter, making it a quick and easy resource for savvy commuters.
Not only does CNN’s officially sanctioned app provide video and audio in addition to the usual articles, it also encourages citizen journalists to upload their own stories about what’s going on in their neighborhoods.
- Fluent News Reader:
Rather than spending time scanning multiple apps from multiple news sources, Fluent acts as an aggregator cobbling together the most popular news stories from dozens of different sources, from BBC to TMZ.
- Al Jazeera English:
Because of America’s military involvement in Western Asia, its citizenry should know of all the news and views impacting the regions; granted, its citizenry should stay on top of stories worldwide simply anyways, even if it holds no direct influence.
- AP Mobile:
The Associated Press’ official application constantly comes out on top as one of the most popular, well-stocked news resources around.
- NPR News:
NPR News archives writing, video, and audio from its numerous affiliates to render local news easier to find; in addition, you can download its extensive programming as podcasts for offline listening.
- Stitcher Radio:
Subscribe to trending topics and political candidates, then read up on aggregated stories curated from more than 10,000 popular news sources using this heavily decorated bit of technology.
- FOX News:
One of the most incendiary news sources out there also happens to exist as one of the most popular as a result, and its app follows suit, with streaming video and talk radio features.
- The Wall Street Journal:
Considering the economy’s shoddy state, The Wall Street Journal consulting helps Americans stay on top of the financial and political news that holds influence over it.
- Out of Milk:
If you have to run to the supermarket before heading home, Out of Milk keeps a digital copy of both your “to-buy” and “in the pantry” lists.
Constantly touted as the best productivity app ever, Dropbox connects smartphones with computers back home for sorting, browsing, and uploading/downloading.
With a $7.99 price tag on the iPhone, iThoughts isn’t exactly the cheapest productivity tool out there, but it certainly works wonders when needing to mindmap a current or future project while on the go; inspiration, like ninjas, can unexpectedly strike at any time.
This incredibly valuable little app offers nearly everything workers and students need to stay on top of their tasks, including voice reminders, to-do lists, searchable bookmarks, and plenty of other super-duper Type-A features.
Box provides space for users to store their various media files for use on many different devices, with both online and offline capabilities.
- PageOnce – Money & Bills:
Use commuting time to take care of pesky bills and other financial obligations through the convenient, safe, and free PageOnce application, which boasts a handy interface and compiles together all accounts that require payouts.
Whether looking for a quiet coffee shop conducive to studying or a chic sushi bar that will impress the big boss, Yelp will help you find it and provide user reviews chock full of details to point you toward the right spot.
The announcement of Google’s QuickOffice purchase literally hit an hour before this writing, leaving the app’s future a Godzilla-sized question mark. Until then, though, enjoy how fluidly it lets you whip up and share Microsoft Office documents away from your desktop or laptop.
- Mint.com Personal Finance:
Another heavily decorated personal finance app, this time focusing more on personal budgeting. Turn commuting time into productivity time and enjoy home once you finally get back.
Flashcards is an essential customization tool that lets users of all ages and skill levels create their own decks covering any subject they need to review or master.
Reading and Writing
This app partners with various e-book purveyors to deliver more than 100,000 choices, covering both the classics and newer reads, at varying prices.
- Pulse News:
Though advertised as a quick and easy way to follow several news sites at once, Pulse actually opens itself up to adding regularly read blogs and websites that have nothing to do with current events.
- My MLA:
Ideal for commuting students and anyone else wanting to publish academic writing, My MLA makes the eponymous handbook available anytime, anywhere for quick reference.
Amazon’s Kindle app converts your smartphone into an e-book reader and connects you directly to the site for downloading everything from free public domain standbys to today’s hottest bestsellers.
- The Cracked Reader:
Start or end a rough work or school day with one of the Internet’s most beloved repositories of offbeat humor about science, pop culture, history, sex, society, current events, and almost every other subject imaginable.
Like the title states, Easybib makes compiling a bibliography for class, work, or personal reference quickly and painlessly, which is ideal for both commutes and library or bookstore jaunts.
- Google Currents:
Use Google Currents to download lush, full-color digital copies of your favorite magazines and newspapers, or convert the rss feeds of blogs and websites you follow!
Hammer away at that novel, short story, or essay you’re secretly working on with a portable word processor boasting word count, dictionary, and thesaurus features.
Its mission is simple, but effective: save favorite websites for offline viewing and reading in the event your Internet or 4G service hiccups or shuts down.
- Advanced English & Thesaurus:
Workers and writers on the go will likely find one of the best dictionary and thesaurus smartphone apps available an incredibly handy time-saver when using commutes productively.
Traffic, Transportation, and Safety
StreetSafe requires a subscription service, but anyone who commutes later at night or in dangerous areas might like the idea of staying on the line with a live advisor who stays on top of your location, dishes out safety tips, and dials 911 if anything goes awry.
Commuting workers and students studying abroad absolutely adore how TripIt alleviates some of the headaches associated with hotel, transportation, airplane, itineraries, and other hallmarks of globetrotting.
- Beat the Traffic:
On days you just can’t take public transportation, this beloved traffic app — available all over the United States and Canada — acts as a one-stop shop for planning drives around clogged streets.
Run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, SaferBus helps commuters make the right decisions about which bus to take, as it provides updated records about any accidents or violations savvy consumers have to know.
If public instances of verbal or physical harassment of a sexual, racial, or gender-oriented nature happen on the regular, Hollaback empowers the marginalized by allowing them to take photos and share their stories to raise awareness and alert other potential victims.
- FlightAware Flight Tracker:
When commuting to the airport (perhaps to commute to a business or school trip), this incredibly popular app is a handy dandy little tool to keep you posted on your flight’s current status.
Another excellent traffic app drivers use to plot the best route to work, school, chores, and leisure activities that pulls from the input of around 100 million contributors.
Everyblock is available in most major cities and culls emergency data from the fire, police, and medical sectors for an (almost) real-time look at what’s going on in every block (bet you didn’t see that one coming).
- Tiny Flashlight:
For Android users, Tiny Flashlight takes advantage of the in-camera LED to convert the device into exactly what the title states. Anyone whose commute involves walking through darkness will greatly appreciate such an innovative safety measure.
Use TripAdvisor to learn of the best possible flights and hotels through the reviews of other consumers and travelers who enjoy (or, at least, must) travel.