The Top 5 Smartphone Apps of 2016

December 16, 2016
Joe Hannan

These are the five apps that stood out to the editors at VMD this year. We judged and ranked them on three criteria: They had to be useful, they had to be affordable, and they had to solve a problem.

Can you even remember life before the smartphone? The editorial staff here at Veterinarian’s Money Digest has a hard time recalling those dark days. In a time when troves of the world’s information are a few taps away, it’s hard to imagine how we got by without such power.

Each year, app developers churn out thousands of smartphone apps in hopes of making their way to your device’s home screen. Entrepreneur expects the app market to be a $77 billion industry by the time the New Year rolls around. With all that money at stake, it’s no wonder so many developers are vying for our attention.

Only a few apps, however, manage to get onto our devices or earn our dollars. These are the five apps that stood out to the editors at VMD this year. We judged and ranked them on three criteria: They had to be useful, they had to be affordable, and they had to solve a problem. With those factors in mind, here are our picks for the top five slots.

1. Waze. If you don’t have Waze on your smartphone, download it right now. One of our editors who shall remain nameless, but might have the initials J.H., has a notoriously horrible sense of direction. This is bad enough, but especially lethal when combined with a poor sense of just how long it takes to get somewhere. If you have the misfortune of riding with him, you’ll most likely arrive an hour early and horribly disoriented. Waze is a game-changer if you know anybody like this. This turn-by-turn navigation app uses real-time information from other drivers, known as “Wazers,” to calculate the most expedient route. It will also reroute you — again, using real-time data – if it detects a slowdown or accident ahead. Don’t feel like paying tolls? Tell it to avoid toll roads. Want your navigator to speak to you in a British accent? Done. Users can also alert you to speed traps and road hazards. Caution: Data rates and traffic laws apply.

Cost: Free.

2. Dark Sky. Let’s face it, the native weather forecasting software on your phone isn’t so great, and the Weather Channel’s app is an assault on the eyes. Plus, it comes with the Weather Channel’s tendency to hype snow flurries into a blizzard. This is why you need Dark Sky. Anecdotally speaking, it seems far more accurate than any other weather apps we’ve used. It also gives you minute-by-minute forecasts as well as customizable precipitation alerts. The app also features a much cleaner design than anything else we’ve used. And yeah, it isn't free. But you check the weather every day, don't you?

Cost: $3.99.

3. Better Haves. Managing a personal budget is a challenge. It gets even more complex if you’re trying to manage a household budget. That’s where Better Haves really shines. The app uses an envelope-based system. You and your partner have shared envelopes to which a set amount of money is allocated each month. Some common shared envelopes are gas, groceries, and date night. Every time each of you makes a purchase, you deduct it from the corresponding envelope in the app. The app tracks both your and your partner’s purchases. Better Haves also allows you to have individual envelopes for petty-cash spending each month. Consequently, this will help you cut back on your impulse purchases.

Cost: Free.

4. Spotify. Pretty much every album ever at your fingertips? Difficult not to enjoy that. Plus, if you pipe music into your veterinary practice, you can use your smart phone to control the tunes over your office’s Wi-Fi network. Spotify premium, however, is things go from good to great. A monthly fee similar to Netflix gives you unlimited, commercial-free listening. Not sure what you’re in the mood for? Spotify sends you a weekly Discover playlist based on tracks you’ve previously listened to. It also offers a radio station function, similar to Pandora.

Cost: The app and basic service are free. The premium service is $10 per month.

5. Inbox by Gmail. How much time do you waste sifting through your email? Inbox will reduce the time you spend tending to that long list of unread items. Its best feature is the way it bundles similar messages. For example, all of those pesky promotional emails you never read can get swept away with one tap. Inbox also offers a solution to the items that you need to address at a later date. You know, the ones that you often forget because they get buried in the constant, fire-hose stream of email. Inbox will enable you to “Snooze” these emails and will remind you about them at the appropriate date and time. It also features Google’s unparalleled search abilities for locating those hard-to-find messages. And if it’s really important, Inbox will allow you to “Pin” items to the top of your inbox so they don’t get lost.

Cost: Free.