Specialized tools are essential for some tasks. But there's no denying the convenience of an app that can serve multiple purposes. Here are a few good options.
Lately, there's been a lot of talk about the move away from full-featured mobile apps to simpler mobile apps that perform one specific function. Although single-purpose apps do have their place, I am personally a fan of apps that are more versatile. That being the case, I thought that it might be fun to write about some apps that could be considered to be multipurpose.
My original idea was to focus on tools similar to Jack of Tools, which is a Windows Phone app that includes a compass, level, altimeter, speedometer, GPS, etc. Unfortunately, that type of tool is relatively tough to come by, especially if you're looking for one that works on a variety of mobile platforms. So I decided to focus on useful apps that perform a variety of related functions.
Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.
Evernote (Figure A) is a free app that can help you remember things. Like Microsoft OneNote, Evernote allows you to collect information from a variety of sources and write that information to a notebook. For instance, you can save a Web page or you can save images or blocks of text from a page without saving the entire page. The main thing that makes Evernote worthwhile is that it's useful for so many diverse purposes, serving as a personal organizer, research tool, and collaboration app.
For example, say you're traveling and you find a restaurant (or even a menu item) you really like. You can easily make a note of it so that you can find that particular place or menu item the next time you visit the city. And you aren't limited to using text notes, either. You can snap a photo or record an audio note. Evernote is smart enough to find text within photographs, too. It's especially useful for staying organized while on the go. You can build a trip notebook that contains your itineraries, confirmations, and destination maps.
EverNote is also designed to take advantage of your available connectivity. It can synchronize your notes across all your devices so that you always have access to them. And it can be used as a collaborative tool, since it lets you share your notes with coworkers.
Evernote is available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry.
2: ZIP Code Tools
You may not need ZIP Code Tools (Figure B) on a daily basis, but it provides such a great wealth of information I just had to include it in this list. ZIP Code Tools allows you to perform all manner of lookup related to Zip codes. It can answer questions such as what are the Zip codes in California, what Zip code am I in right now, what is the demographic data for 90210, or how far is it to zip code 40258 (and many, many more). It can even point you toward the nearest post office.
So why do I consider this app to be multipurpose? Well, as it turns out, the app can be used for more than just Zip codes. You can also do phone number searches. And you can find area codes by state, find out whom a dialing prefix is registered to, and perform other types of location tracking.
ZIP Code Tools is available for free on iOS and Android devices.
3: Waze Social GPS
Waze Social GPS (Figure C) is a free multi-function tool that's a big help for those who have a daily commute. As the name implies, Waze uses real-time data from other drivers to alert you to traffic problems along your normal route. If a traffic problem does exist, Waze can route you around it. It can also alert you to things like speed traps and road closures.
But to earn a spot on this list, Waze has to be more than just a one-trick pony. In addition to automatic routing, Waze can help you to find the cheapest fuel along your route. It's even smart enough to pick up on other destinations you visit frequently.
And here's my favorite thing about Waze: If you have a group of friends who are all traveling to a common destination, it can track everyone's progress. You don't need to worry about texting anyone (they're probably driving at the moment) to find out if they've left yet or when they expect to arrive. Waze can even work with your Facebook events and your calendar.
Waze Social GPS is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
OpenTable (Figure D) is a free tool geared toward those who like to dine out. Although OpenTable markets itself as a restaurant reservation app, it does quite a bit more. For instance, when you make a reservation, you can include special requests (such as "I'm allergic to strawberries" or "I'd like to sit next to the window"). The app also puts your reservation on your calendar. It even lets you invite your friends to join you for dinner.
OpenTable is primarily focused on reservations, but it also has a good restaurant locator. Best of all, it's tied to real-time restaurant seating data. So you can get a list of the restaurants you can get into right now (or at your preferred time). You can filter your search results by things like cuisine type, price, and neighborhood.
If you do find a restaurant you're interested in, OpenTable lets you check reviews and browse the menu. It even gives you driving directions. About the only thing that this multipurpose app can't do is reserve a parking space for you.
OpenTable is available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and Kindle.
5: Trip38 Travel Assistant
Trip38 Travel Assistant (Figure E) is a free multi-function travel app. Like many other travel apps, Trip38 manages your reservations for flights and hotels — but it does a lot more than that. The app provides a wealth of destination-specific information. For instance, Trip38 can tell you about local attractions, events that are happening at your destination city, and the weather at your destination. The app also contains information about embassies and offers an option to call a cab. The only thing that could make this app better would be if it could organize your tickets to local attractions and rental car reservations.
Trip38 Travel Assistant is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
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Other multipurpose apps?
Do you have a favorite catch-all app that handles multiple tasks for you? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.