With global connectivity at our fingertips through mobile apps, we can accomplish so much individually and collectively. And progress is happening across nearly every industry. This list of apps and tools can make your life better in small or significant ways. How will apps improve your day-to-day? How will you change the world? Categories Business and Entrepreneurship Convenience Education Finances Health and Wellness Home and Family Job Search Productivity Relationships Tech Travel Business and Entrepreneurship iTrustPRO Contributor: Matt Mong, Marketing and Communications with iTrustPRO Our app is having a big impact in the lives of local, service-based small business owners. iTrustPRO is the only small business app that is truly all-in-one, helping businesses grow and manage their business from one place. Every account comes with a free, search engine optimized website. In the app you can share your work, upload photos, and manage your customer reviews. The app also comes with digital tools to make to make it easy to manage your back office, such as professional branded quotes and invoices, a mini-CRM, as well as the ability to manage jobs, employees and accept electronic payments from customers. Slack Contributor: Ollie Smith, CEO of Energy Seek As an entrepreneur, this is one app which has made a significant impact on my business. This fantastic tool enables me to remain in contact with my geographically dispersed team through encouraging collaboration. Slack eliminates many of the barriers that traditionally have been obstacles to transparency and collaboration. As the CEO, it gives me an insight into what my team thinks while not interfering with their respective roles. Secondly, it has cut web traffic in half as it eliminates most of the back and forth that used to fill my email inbox. Last but not least, it has allowed me to easily set-up one-to-one meetings and acts as a historical record of any conversation with any team member. Starter U from the Brian Hamilton Foundation Contributor: The Brian Hamilton Foundation There are lots of apps for wanna-be entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley and Shark Tank dreams, but few apps for the average person who just wants to start a business to support themselves and their families. Starter U, a free video course on the basics of how to start and run a business, launched this spring on the Brian Hamilton Foundation app. The engaging, practical videos provide the essentials needed to start a business. Helpful regardless of education level, it is particularly useful for people for whom a traditional job is not a good fit and for people who are not currently employed but who need an income. Vaetas’ Video Connect Contributor: V. Michael Santoro, Co-founder of Vaetas Vaetas, LLC, is a SaaS company that provides a patented call-to-action video communication system for business development professionals. The product, Video Connect, allows users to record and connect with prospects and customers through the use of personalized video. The videos can be sent as emails, text messages and direct social messaging. The call-to-action videos can also be shared via social media. No web pages are required to embed the videos. The videos play full-screen in a browser window and viewers can take the next action step directly from the video. The cloud-based app provides users with a Web app and fully-integrated mobile app for video on the go. Convenience Allset Contributor: Allset Allset saves you up to 30 minutes every day during your lunch break. It's a free dine-in pre-ordering app that allows you to make reservations, place orders, pick up food, and pay the check in advance in 2000+ restaurants in 11 major cities. This means that food can be ready on the client’s arrival in the restaurant and they can leave without waiting for a bill. Also with Allset app, you can pre-order pickup your food within 10 minutes. It is the only service that allows you to make reservations at restaurants that don't take reservations otherwise, even via phone call (counter service restaurants, fast food joints, food court spots). Reservation is possible with Allset because restaurants get paid and tipped in advance and know the exact time a client arrives. Fashion Buddy Contributor: Hannah K. Oh, Digital Fashion Marketing Student Think about the last time you doubted the way you looked. Maybe it was a date gone wrong? Or did the glance of a passerby make you uncomfortable? Put those fears to bed with Fashion Buddy, an app that gives you immediate outfit feedback when your friends decide to leave the chat. Post two pictures, set the timer and get anonymous, positive feedback from the Fashion Buddy community. Findaspot Contributor: Derrick Denicola, CEO of Findaspot Findaspot calculates the quickest route between two points and gives users a list of locations in between them. For example: Ben lives Downtown. Mary lives near the beach. They want to meet. Using Findaspot, 1. Ben Enters his location 2. He enters Mary's location 3. He enters any one of Yelp's 30k+ categories (in this case, Restaurant) Ben gets up to 20 listings for restaurants in between himself and Mary. This makes picking a place easier, more diplomatic, and more important saves time, stress and fuel costs with both parties. Other common use cases for Findaspot include arranging a date and finding places to stop along the way on road trips. Shazam Contributor: Dane Kolbaba, Watchdog Pest Control Ever heard a song that you liked but didn't know the title of? What if it was just a snippet of a melody, no lyrics to search for to help you find out? We've all been there, and that is where Shazam comes in. It's a music recognition application that looks up the song for you. All you have to do is turn the app on so it can listen to what's playing, and, well, Shazam! You can also play songs and add them to your Spotify playlist or integrate with Google Play Music and Facebook. Education Academia.edu Contributor: Adi Raval, VP of Communications at Academia.edu Academia.edu, the world's largest EdTech start-up, is devoted to providing open access and free academic research to its over 80 million users. It has over 23 million unique uploads of academic papers across tens of thousands of research interests. Imagine if you could access all of these papers all for free from your smartphone? You can now do so because we recently introduced a brand new mobile app. The app allows anyone in the world to access papers for free. There are users in sub-Saharan Africa who can now read research papers on maternal health and farming all for free, just from their phones. Babbel Contributor: Jen Jordan, Executive Producer of Content for Babbel's Multilinguish podcast Babbel is the world's first language-learning app offering the shortest path to real-life conversations. Babbel's language experts are dedicated to bringing users the best quality in modern language-learning, covering 8,500 hours of content in 14 languages, from Spanish to Indonesian. Babbel is the only product to offer courses tailored to users' native languages, building on grammar and vocabulary they will already know. Babbel is the perfect platform for those wanting to not only learn a new language but also develop their understanding of other cultures' customs and traditions, so we can all understand one another a little bit better, one day at a time. Blinkist Contributor: Robyn Kerkhof, Book Curator at Blinkist Blinkist is a micro-learning app and platform that condenses top-line insights from popular nonfiction books into 15-minute audio recordings and reads for 9 million users worldwide. With over 3,000 books-in-blinks available, Blinkist users can get through multiple books a day if desired, even when they have extremely limited free time. Books can be read or listened to during morning workouts, commutes to work, or lunch breaks to provide motivational insights. By offering highlighted advice readers found most helpful, users are able to quickly understand concepts and see things from new perspectives and clear up time for additional pursuits. Read Ahead Contributor: Dr. Roxanne Russell, Digital Learning Expert and Creator of Read Ahead Read Ahead is an AI-driven application that, in minutes, takes any piece of digital text and turns it into a fully customized, Kindle-like, interactive reading assignment for tweens and teens that can be completed on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. With Read Ahead, kids are encouraged and supported to read what they want on the media that they prefer and they’re able to do so distraction-free. Even better, Read Ahead’s functionality helps readers expand their vocabulary and critical thinking in a way that traditional classroom reading assignments don’t. Finances Cord-Cutting Quiz Contributor: Daniel Ornstein, Co-founder and CEO of Bundler, Inc. Bundler's free Cord-Cutting Quiz looks at your location (and the cable/internet providers available in your area) and your interests (sports, news, kids' content, movies, etc.) and provides a few concrete recommended adjustments that would save you money. In addition to providing a few recommendations, this tool walks you through the process of adding and canceling services. We've found that most users can save $30+ per month without sacrificing much if anything. Credit.com Credit Monitoring Contributor: Kaitlyn Mahoney and Natalie Issa of Credit.com The Credit.com credit monitoring app allows you to access your entire credit profile, including your credit score and insight into how it compares to your peers. You’ll see where you currently stand, understand how your score has changed—and why—and get credit information and money-saving tips tailored to your score. Digit Contributor: Jacqueline Devereux, Financial Expert with SproutCents The Digit app helps you save money without even thinking about it. This app is perfect for people who aren't great savers but have financial goals like paying off credit card debt, going on a vacation, or saving up for a rainy day fund. The app analyzes your spending and automatically transfers money towards your savings goals. It takes a little amount out every couple of days, based on your checking account balance. You don't even notice the money is missing and the best part is you are earning interest. Once you've reached your goal, you can keep saving or withdraw the money back into your checking account. I've saved thousands of dollars since I signed up a few months ago and been able to invest the money in traveling. Field Agent Contributor: Brianne Bell, Frugal Minimalist Kitchen Field Agent is a mystery shopping app. Field Agent works with businesses to have mystery shoppers go to their business and review their service or product anonymously. As the mystery shopper, you find tasks on the app and follow the instructions. You get paid for each one you do, usually between $4–$8 per task. Tasks usually take between 2–20 minutes. Typical tasks include finding a product display and taking some photos of it, asking certain questions to the customer service staff, or reviewing a product at a fast food restaurant. I’ve earned about $400 last year only doing a few per month, but you could earn a lot more if you did all the ones available. Fluz Contributor: Maurice Harary, Founder and CEO of Fluz Fluz is a passive income cash back application that gives you rewards for everyday purchases, and unlike other cash back rewards, Fluz offers a lifetime benefit from its inviting system. Members earn money when they shop and keep earning whenever their friends shop, and even when their friends’ friends shop. Swell Contributor: Dave Fanger, CEO of Swell Swell is an impact investing platform on a mission to make sure that every dollar invested has a positive impact on the world. Strategically designed to drive a revolution in investing transparency and access, Swell’s app allows conscious consumers — at the touch of their fingertips — to easily invest in companies solving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGS). Also called “the world’s to-do list,” these global goals are the most pressing challenges facing our world from now until 2030. Swell’s iOS app makes it easier than ever for empathetic and mission-driven investors to move more of their money into companies who stand for the world they want to see. Vimvest Contributor: Justin Bailey, Founder of Vimvest Vimvest makes saving fun, effortless, and free. Whether you're saving for your dream wedding, an extravagant get-a-way with your friends, or just saving to become financially stable, Vimvest helps you every step of the way and acts as your own personal financial advisor. After selecting the first goal with your Vimvest app, it allows you to set a target amount and date in order to track your needed daily, weekly, or monthly financial goals. Waldo Contributor: Colin Ristic, COO of Waldo Waldo is a newly released web app that makes you money — automatically. Whenever you make a purchase, Waldo tracks the price of your purchase, and if it detects the price has dropped, it will automatically reach out to the retailer and get you a refund. Imagine you buy a new jacket for $150, but two days later it goes on sale for $75. Waldo gets you $75 back, all automatically. Entirely effortless on the user, Waldo can save you hundreds of dollars a year on day-to-day purchases. It supports over 100 different merchants, including stores like Amazon, Walmart, JCPenney, and Target, as well as more niche stores such as REI, Patagonia, Topshop, Gap, Revolve and dozens of others. Health and Wellness Innit Contributor: Innit Make home-cooked meals with assistance from Innit. Innit helps users prepare the food with step-by-step cooking videos, guided instructions, and can even connect with their smart appliances (like LG smart ovens) to cook automatically and give real-time updates so the meal comes out perfect every time. Beginning when users create personalized meals to fit their exact diet (vegan, Keto, gluten-free, etc.), Innit automatically creates a grocery list of all the necessary items that can be easily purchased through the platform and delivers them right to your front doorstep, thus removing the most painstaking aspects of the food preparation process making meal planning easier and more efficient. My Fitness by Jillian Michaels Contributor: JillianMichaels.com Not only does the app offer custom workout plans with over a thousand hand-picked exercises guided by Jillian based on your specific fitness level and goals, but it also includes customizable meal plans to follow throughout the training period regardless of dietary restrictions (which is especially nice for a vegetarian). You do not need to have any equipment and you can work out from the comfort of your own home. You no longer need expensive gym memberships or sitters to watch the kids while you go to a workout class! MyStayWell App Contributor: Mitch Collier, VP of Product Development at StayWell StayWell reinvents the category of digital health, combining participants' daily life habits with lifestyle elements to track and create a holistic view of health. From daily steps tracked to fruits and vegetables consumed to better sleep and health education modules, the StayWell App puts health knowledge in the palm of users' hands. It also allows users to get questions answered by licensed doctors, connect with expert health coaches to help achieve specific goals, find ideas for recipes and workouts, and track biometrics. The StayWell App integrates with major wearables and can incorporate into EMR systems to provide healthcare providers with real-time info on health and send updates on immunizations, health appointments, and routine screenings. ThinkUp Contributor: Gloria Mitchell, Crisis and Performance Coach Affirmations are a great way to change the mindset, but many people struggle to do them because they feel weird saying them, they don't have the privacy to do them, or they can't figure out how to do them consistently. This app solves those problems. ThinkUp allows you to record each affirmation in your own voice, automatically sets them to music and even allows you to create affirmation playlists (i.e. you can have a playlist for building your confidence an another for becoming a better parent). And if you have trouble coming up with affirmations, the app even offers some suggestions. I highly recommend it. Home and Family AnyList Contributor: Joe Wilson, Owner of Volare Systems I really like using AnyList. The whole family uses it for grocery lists. No more sticky notes or whiteboards. Everyone uses the app to update the list with what they need for the grocery shopper. We also use it when traveling and camping for packing lists. When you've checked off all the items, you can reset the list and you're ready for next time. Of course, on your trip, you can add things you wish you had brought and delete things you don't want to bring next time. Securly Contributor: Vinay Mahadik, CEO and Co-founder of Securly SecurlyHub is for families with young children (2–9 years old) who want one tool for an in-home online activity and device management solution that is easy and affordable. Securly's platform is the only one offering the 360-view built and trusted by thousands of schools to keep millions of children safe while they're online. Through the ParentView app, parents can directly monitor activity on their child's school-owned device to directly get real-time online activity reports. Securly is the perfect solution to help parents block inappropriate content, monitor cyberbullying and harassment, and manage screen time usage. Sortly Contributor: Bryan Stoddard, Director of Homeswares Insider To put it simply, Sortly will make your home more organized and decluttered. It's a super simple inventory system that uses your phone as a central database of all those things in your home that matter to you. It can be used to reduce clutter and to bring back control in the household. In short, you can create a visual inventory that will help you catalog the important things in your life. With Sortly, you'll be aware of the way you've stored thing from your kid's toys to your purse collection. Upparent.com Contributor: Alexandra Fung, CEO and Co-founder of Upparent Upparent.com gathers recommendations from parents about the best things to do, places to go, and products to try as a family. Rather than featuring content created by a single author, Upparent gathers recommendations from the community itself about favorite family activities and products, making it easy for users to weigh in with their own votes, comments, and favorites so that content is dynamic and always improving. Content displayed on Upparent is always tailored to each user’s specific location, with interactive features that make it easy to find recommendations most relevant to each unique family. Job Search PeakSeason Contributor: Lee McMillan, Founder and CEO of PeakSeason PeakSeason is a talent marketplace that focuses exclusively on seasonal and resort area hiring. Our goal is to help candidates discover job opportunities in incredible destinations, close to the activities they love like hiking, skiing, surfing, biking, beaching and more. We believe that where you live matters and that everyone deserves to live someplace that they find truly inspirational. Thus, we strive to connect people with jobs that allow them to pursue their passions in places that might otherwise seem unattainable. Static Jobs Contributor: Gene Mal, CTO of Static Jobs Static Jobs is a job search site for IT professionals in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Our goal is to be fast and simple in the spirit of Google. There are lots of job seekers who want to apply but just can't physically register on every employer's website or answer a million questions on every employer’s website. That’s what a resume is for; you write it once to use everywhere, but now many employers ask job seekers to duplicate information readily available in their resumes. This is tedious and inefficient. Static Jobs asks only a few basic questions, does not require registration, and allows you to submit your resume to multiple IT jobs at once. Trade Hounds Contributor: Trade Hounds The mission of Trade Hounds is to empower blue-collar construction and trade workers with a digital community built just for them. The Trade Hounds app is a digital town square and a combination of Instagram and LinkedIn that helps 13 million construction workers, contractors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. connect with each other to find new work opportunities. It also allows trades people to discuss their families and their life/work issues and share on-the-job photographs. Users can share their experiences, discuss their projects, showcase their best work, and store, organize and share work photos with fellow trade workers in addition to engaging with brands they use daily. Productivity Evernote Contributor: Nicole Royer, Principal Consultant at Innovative Revolution Evernote can organize your entire life. For your work life, it can keep your research, your client work, your branding, and checklists. For my company, every employee and client has access to the notebooks that they need. You can chat and send notes back and forth, which is easier than email because you stay within one application. For your personal life, it can keep your grocery list, your budget and expenses, your child's artwork, and your vacation planning. Evernote is my go-to platform when I need to save and find documents. The program can be used in a browser, mobile app, or desktop program, and all sync together so you can access everything at any time! Mailbird Contributor: Andrea Loubier, CEO of Mailbird Mailbird is a desktop email client for Windows that helps users save valuable time managing multiple email accounts so everything is seamless and in one place. We have had a lot of success in studying different methods of organization and productivity with our app. As a female entrepreneur, it is extremely important to me to make the home/business ratio much more favorable. The key component of this is organization. Therefore, it's imperative to utilize apps that will not only assist you in juggling multiple tasks but will help you save even a half hour of precious time. Mailbird integrates with other time-saving apps like Slack and Asana. Relationships Cheekd Contributor: Cheekd Cheekd sets itself apart from other dating apps because it gives you the option to interact with a match before starting a virtual relationship with the compatible user. After setting up your profile and filters of what you’re looking for, Cheekd will then send you notifications when a potential match is nearby. This app immediately connects singles in a 30-mile radius (via Bluetooth) and works in a subway or a plane. Instead of encouraging users to continue to hide behind a screen, Cheekd pushes you to engage in social settings while paying attention to potential matches in the area. Our new dating app gives us the power to light the spark face-to-face first and leave the online talking for later. And because Cheekd uses Bluetooth, it doesn’t require an internet connection to function. Send-Say Contributor: Patricia Gill of Potomac, MD How often do you hear that someone is sick, or got a promotion, or had a bad day and think, “I should send a card.” How often do you actually do it? Send-Say is for all of us who need help turning thoughtful thoughts into action. Choose a card, customize it, add your personal message and check-out. Send-Say handles the printing, postage, and mailing. You can store important dates and get reminders so you never miss a birthday again. It's great for thank-you notes too, or even for simple thinking of you cards. How awesome to be able to make someone's day in just a few clicks from your phone? I use it all the time. Tech 1Password Contributor: Frank Oelschlager, Managing Director of Ten Mile Square Technologies 1Password is a secure password vault and digital wallet that integrates seamlessly with web browsers and mobile devices. This app allows you to have one password to remember to unlock the vault, then provides the functionality to fill in login forms. One of the features that is great is that it has a password generator that can conform to any site's password requirements. Using this app makes keeping all your sensitive information secure and using really secure passwords super easy. You don’t even need to know or remember the passwords in use across the dozens of sites used every day because 1Password does that for you. Degoo Contributor: Carl Hasselskog, CEO and Co-founder of Degoo Degoo is an experience-driven cloud files and photos storage app on iOS and Android and is an alternative to Google Drive/Photos, Dropbox, and Apple’s iCloud. All users get 100GB of cloud storage for free with paid upgrade options on all features. Once uploaded, every time you visit the app, Degoo uses AI to selectively choose and present your photos in an Instagram-like feed. You may re-experience ones you took but completely forgot about. Degoo also offers standard file-view formats. For anyone who is concerned about the privacy and security surrounding their data and openly sharing it with technology giants like Google, Degoo offers two degrees of security: standard military-grade encryption found in all services as well as an opt-in zero knowledge encryption service for those who want extra protection. Travel Aite Contributor: Tomas Zatloukal, Founder of Aite Aite is an augmented reality social media geo app, a memory book by places. Aite allows users to connect with friends and family — and the general public if they choose — by sharing videos, photos, and audio in real space. Explore the searchable map that contains all geotagged bubbles of users with their posts, and go on the journey. Users can share and preserve photos, videos, and audio by adding them to a specific geographical location within in-app “bubbles” where they are permanently pinned and store. User content is viewable any time by all or particular users on their iPhones but can be viewed also in Augmented Reality (AR) and this by users physically located at the same geographical coordinates as the given virtual bubble. This AR function allows users a time capsule experience at virtual bubble locations, viewing all past content in conjunction with the physically present reality. AllTrails Contributor: Ciara Hautau, Lead Digital Marketing Strategist at Fueled When I travel I love to stay active, especially outdoors. This app has been a huge lifesaver for me. It gives you details on all hiking, running, and biking spots in your area. It also acts as a GPS so you don't get lost and has some fitness tracking as well. Fishbrain Contributor: Lisa Kennelly, CMO at Fishbrain Fishbrain is a mobile app and social network for people who love the outdoors and enjoy fishing, with 8 million users globally. Fishbrain Premium includes Fishbrain BiteTime, an advanced fishing forecast, designed to help you know exactly when and where is the best time to catch a specific species of fish, as well as the integrated C-MAP Genesis Social Map, providing crowdsourced depth contour data, enabling users to locate densely populated fishing areas that are not found on other maps. Whether you're a beginner or a pro, Fishbrain provides every outdoors person with the tools necessary to plan the perfect fishing trip by recommending locations, connecting you with other anglers and much more. Fishbrain gently brings fishing into the digital age, helping people regardless of age or geographic location bond through fishing and social networking with their family and friends. Hopper Contributor: Ciara Hautau, Lead Digital Marketing Strategist at Fueled I'm in a long distance relationship, so I fly frequently. This app has been a great way to save money when I book flights. Simply put the dates and locations of the trip you'd like to book and the app will start tracking good times to book. If you don't book right away, it will alert you when the price will drop or if you should wait longer. It's a great tool to save money on travel bookings. Tipster Contributor: Ciara Hautau, Lead Digital Marketing Strategist at Fueled Going on vacation? Travel often for work? This app has an extensive tipping guide for over 200 countries. Once you land, you'll receive a push notification providing all you need to know in regards to tipping etiquette in that country. Never under or overtip a bartender, tour guide, or bellhop ever again. App users and company representatives submitted apps to the author for consideration of inclusion in this round-up. Best Company has not tested or reviewed these apps and, per its mission, recommends consulting consumer reviews prior to purchasing a product or service.
Guest Post by James Grieco With nearly every waking minute of our lives linked in to the internet and information networks controlled by oligarchic companies, many of us often fail to realize just how at the mercy of big business we actually are. It seems that everyone from governments to companies big and small want your data to track your location and sell you targeted products. What is the history of data selling among organizations? Telecom companies Big telecommunications companies such as Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T can control the flow of their customers’ information online and on phones and are so powerful that they largely operate however they want. In the past, when revelations about selling and using private data have come to light, the balance between public anger and the government’s response has usually been disproportionately skewed. When telecom companies are caught taking advantage of their powers, they are quick to issue public apologies and promise to do better in the future. Facebook With the rise of social media giants, many of the most powerful companies in the country — and the world — have free rein both to control your internet and telephone communications and profit from them. As the old adage goes, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” While that’s certainly true of social media, telecom companies have become so influential in American politics that they get to charge customers and also profit off of them additionally by selling data; the telecommunications industry annually appears on lists of the biggest lobbying wings in the country. Facebook gave your data away in its quest for power, but Verizon and others sold it simply because they could. How can they do that? If you read the complete service agreement cell phone providers present to customers, you’ll find many force your consent to let them use information about things like your location, app usage, and web searches. The public has become more aware of this over the years, but the outcry has never seemed to compel action beyond a general sense of unease. Due to the lack of a true and momentous push to hold these companies accountable for their behavior, most are still selling your data despite claims they’ve stopped. The truth may be that telecom companies are simply getting smarter about how they can continue to collect and sell customers’ data without public backlash. In 2015, the public got wind of something called “supercookies,” tracking cookies that are essentially impossible to remove, thus always broadcasting your internet searches to advertisers. The FCC ended up fining Verizon $1.35 million over supercookies and made them explicitly ask customers for consent before enabling the tracking mechanism. How is the problem still happening? Supercookies Today, Verizon still uses supercookies, and considering how few people have heard of that term, it appears that asking for consent to use them deep within the typically monolithic user agreements has caught customers unaware. Despite multiple fines the government has levied against these companies over the years, the emphasis of the punishments is all too frequently about past behavior, and not intended to influence future action — if it were, the fines would be much larger than they have been. The current FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, has routinely acted in the interests of these telecom giants. Pai, a former Verizon employee, has an extended history with multiple telecommunications companies, yet has repeatedly refused to recuse himself from conflicts of interest. Public apathy The internet has succumbed to big business. Too many people are apathetic about their privacy being stripped in the name of other interests, and telecommunications giants are too powerful to fight. Most areas only have one viable internet provider and only a handful of phone companies dominate the industry. Changing the telecom industry’s practices will be an impossible task on an individual level. Here is what you have to realize about data collection among phone companies: it is real, it is widespread, and despite what the companies themselves have said as damage control, there is no end in sight to this practice. How can consumers protect themselves? Use VPNs and encrypted apps What can you do about it for yourself? Stay away from clearly compromised apps and services: i.e. default texting apps like iMessage and Social Media messengers. If you have Android, consider installing Tor browser (which lets you browse the internet anonymously) or at least a VPN to cloak your physical location. For messaging and calling on your personal phone, here is a list of encrypted apps that can help you stay safe and keep your information out of corporate hands. Use VoIP for business needs If you use your phone for business purposes, consider using a VoIP provider. VoIP, or voice over internet protocol, is software used to modernize telephone usage — particularly business telephone usage. VoIP uses your internet connection to make and receive phone calls, which makes it easy to use a VPN and keep your business calls private. The VoIP industry is also full of options, as it lacks true powerhouses akin to Verizon or AT&T, a fact which keeps the balance of power between provider and customer in check. Some VoIP providers, like MightyCall, have a multitude of security measures in place to protect customer data as well. Beyond not selling your business data, the cloud storage VoIP utilizes has multiple layers to protect against security breaches and customer information is never stored permanently. Remain vigilant Do not hesitate to try to protect yourself from the harmful practices of the telecom industry and do not be afraid to use your devices furtively; VPNs and encrypted apps are not just for criminals and doing shady things — they are for everyone, as the tools to keep the playing field fair in this day and age. James Grieco is the content marketing manager at MightyCall. When he isn't trying to explain VoIP and its benefits to people, he watches sports or binges detective novels. You can follow him for random and irregular thoughts: @LackingAFilter.
Too many of us are giving our business to cell phone carriers that aren’t adequately serving us. But let’s face it: sometimes it feels easier to stick with the status quo, even if it’s detrimental to our wallets or our lifestyle. Change can require time and effort. Luckily, with this list, we’ve made it easy for you to pinpoint the particular issues you may be facing — and we give you the tools you need to pursue the cell phone carrier that works for your unique situation. So what are the signs that it’s time to switch carriers? 1. You feel trapped, ripped off, or generally unsatisfied via GIPHY Unfortunately, many people are locked into a contract they wish they could escape. Anna Miran of MightyCall aptly describes long-term, expensive-to-break contracts as “literally the worst thing in the industry. Once a company locks you in, they lose incentive to keep you happy and provide the best service they can.” If this situation describes you, you have some options: Break the contract and pay up Switch to a non-contract carrier that will pay off your early termination fee Wait until your contract is up before you skedaddle Whatever you do, definitely shop around for a prepaid or postpaid month-to-month carrier that offers flexibility. Andrew Moore-Crispin of Ting Mobile explains, “Life can be very fluid. You shouldn’t have to worry about fees and penalties should you land a job that provides a phone or takes you abroad.” Ting actually gives you your first month free and charges you only for the data, texts, and minutes you use each month. 2. Your phone is operating at sloth speeds via GIPHY Do you often wait several seconds to upload, download, or access something on your phone? Among other factors, a number of issues might be at play: The file size is just really big You’re in a remote area with limited network connectivity You need to disable apps slowing you down or restart your phone The network is congested temporarily Your carrier isn’t delivering the speeds you’re paying for You need to up the amount of high-speed data you’re paying for To determine your speed, test your data speed with Speedtest to put a number to your observations rather than just a subjective gauge that things are slow. Then check to see how much of your allotted high-speed data you’ve used for the month. Even if you have an unlimited plan, it’s unlikely you have a claim on unlimited 4G LTE data. When carriers advertise unlimited plans, “unlimited” refers to all data available to the consumer, including lower-speed 3G and 2G data. Once you exhaust your allotted 4G LTE data, you’ll likely experience throttling, or slowing of data speeds. Unlimited data ≠ unlimited high-speed data. Experts and consumers generally agree that throttling as a network management strategy is superior to the time when overage fees were common, but it’s still an inconvenience. So what are your options? Do nothing and wait and see where and how to access 5G speeds in the near future Upgrade your current phone plan to increase your high-speed data allotment Compare high-speed data packages from top-reviewed carriers such as Verizon, which offers a whopping 75 GB of data at 4G LTE speeds starting at $60 per month 3. You’re paying for data you don’t actually use via GIPHY Data is the name of the game with all the competing top-of-the-line unlimited phone plans available. It’s all about more, better, and faster data. But not everyone needs exorbitant data amounts. Does one of these scenarios describe your current situation? You’re a student who spends nearly all your time on campus connected to the university’s Wi-Fi. You primarily use your phone at home or work, where Wi-Fi is accessible. You use your phone mostly for texting and calling on the go rather than for surfing or using apps requiring Wi-Fi connectivity or data. Navigation apps are the only apps you use on the road. Or, you download area maps ahead of time for offline use and aren’t using apps at all. Rather than streaming music through your music app when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi, you download music ahead of time that can be played offline. If you actually use the data you’re paying for each month, don’t bother downsizing your allotment. Just know that you don’t have to default to maximum data plans. David Lynch of tech help hub Payette Forward explains, “There’s no one-size-fits-all cell phone plan, so it’s important for you to figure out what you really need. The average person only uses a few gigabytes of data per month. Switching to a plan with a smaller monthly allotment of data is a great way to immediately save money.” We couldn’t agree more. As you navigate a data amount switch, make sure you do the math to confirm the switch saves you money in the long run, since in some cases carriers incentivize buying more data with additional perks (such as an AutoPay or multi-line discount) that do compensate for the higher data charges. 4. Your calls are dropping and texts aren’t going through via GIPHY “If you find that you can't send messages or make calls because you lack service in certain geographical locations, then the cellphone carrier may not have sufficient coverage for you,” explains David Steele of refurbished phone retailer EverydayPhone. The biggest wireless providers operate networks nationwide and boast U.S. population network connectivity approaching 100 percent, especially in metropolitan areas. Sprint recently improved network coverage in Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City, with download speeds improving more than 50 percent. However, some areas of the country can be better served by smaller carriers that provide region-specific coverage through roaming agreements with more than one carrier. And sometimes a region-specific carrier makes more financial sense if you only need phone service in that area. For example, Appalachian Wireless covers parts of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia with its own LTE network operated from a spectrum leased from Verizon. Talk to your local friends to gauge their satisfaction with their carrier’s network coverage as you determine which carrier is best. You can also search within the reviews section at the bottom of each of our company profile pages to pinpoint specific geographic areas. 5. Customer service isn’t actually serving you via GIPHY As human beings (and even as self-interested consumers), most of us can overlook a mistake that is appropriately addressed. But it’s another story when the problem isn’t taken care of efficiently or fairly — or ever! When you pay for a service, you expect excellent service. These red flags indicate subpar customer service from a carrier: Lacks transparency Charges hidden fees Adds on services that were not agreed upon Is difficult to reach on the phone Has long wait times for phone communication or email replies Cannot provide answers or solutions to issues And sometimes it’s over-communicating that’s the problem. MyFoodSubscriptions’ Beverly Friedmann explains that “companies that send too many texts, emails, and notifications in reference to upcoming bills or promotions can be off-putting.” Reading verified customer reviews is the best way to gauge the overall customer service quality of a cell phone provider. 6. You want to start or join an account with family or friends via GIPHY Don’t settle for getting ripped off with your current family plan or overpaying for a single-line account. Cell phone carriers incentivize accounts with multiple phone lines by offering hefty multi-line discounts with ample high-speed data amounts, customizable international options, and few, if any, strings attached. Take Sprint, for example. Sprint’s multi-line Unlimited Basic service plan gets you a third, fourth, and fifth phone line free, totaling $20 per month per line. That gives customers a $1,000 savings over the first year over comparable plans with some competitors. 7. You want better parental controls If you’re ready for your children to have a mobile device, but you don’t want them to have untethered access to the digital world, your phone carrier’s parental controls are a good place to start. But what exactly do the parental controls actually control? Verizon, Mobile, and AT&T’s parental control apps have these capabilities at a minimum, though each carrier varies slightly in other areas: Instantly turn off Wi-Fi access Instantly turn off data access Limit apps available for download Limit time spent on device Limit call minutes and number of text messages Locate family members’ locations and seven-day location history Another thing to consider for kids is a basic phone rather than a smartphone. Unfortunately, some carriers don’t offer a text-and-talk only plan that makes sense financially — sometimes it’s actually less expensive to purchase data with your kid’s line. In that case, look into data sharing plans that allow you to allot specific data amounts to certain lines within the account. 8. You’re eligible for special discounts via GIPHY Perhaps you’ve reached senior status and you’re eligible for a yearly phone bill discount — but your carrier doesn’t offer one. Or you’re an active member or veteran of the U.S. military. T-Mobile offers discounts for both of those situations. Verizon gives military and veteran-status personnel discounts and discounts wireless accounts for the following first responders: Firefighters Police officers EMS workers Retirees Volunteers Consumer Cellular gives AARP members 5 percent off monthly fees and usage charges, 30 percent off select accessories, and a 45-day money-back, risk-free guarantee. 9. You spot a deal you’ve just got to snag via GIPHY Sales promotions aren’t always worth the hype. But some definitely are. Many carriers advertise these types of deals when you sign up with them: Receive a free, heavily-discounted, or zero-interest financing for a top-of-the-line phone Have your termination fee paid off if your current carrier charges one Get your device payment plan paid off Get a certain number of lines free on a multi-line account When a promotion catches your eye, read the fine print and calculate your hypothetical startup and monthly costs with the new carrier and compare it to what you’re currently paying. Don’t forget to incorporate tax, early termination fees (if applicable), and SIM cards and other device-transfer costs. If you’ve done the math and you’re still feeling psyched, go for it. 10. You want entertainment perks and other add-ons via GIPHY While there are plenty of options for keeping your phone plan simple, carriers are increasingly snagging our attention with bonuses and add-ons, such as hotspot integration. T-Mobile’s T-Mobile ONE plan comes with free Netflix and unlimited HD streaming at DVD quality Cricket offers individual country add-ons which include calling minutes and unlimited text, picture, and video messaging to Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Philippines, or Vietnam for $10-$15 per month per country GreatCall plans come with an urgent response medical alert along with health, safety, and medical apps
Guest post by David Rodriguez Are you thinking of upgrading or updating your mobile phone or your tablet soon? There are a lot of things to consider when looking into a new mobile purchase. But you might have not weighed the benefits of mobile phone insurance or a cell phone protection plan yet. Is it really worth it? This insurance can usually be purchased from the carrier of your choice at the time you purchase the device. The premium depends upon the worth of the cell phone purchased. The coverage period typically is for one year, but coverage can also be purchased for a two-year period or paid month-to-month. What does mobile phone insurance cover? Basically, mobile phone insurance is just like any other insurance covering maximum damages. In such a case, it covers all risks resulting from events such as theft, loss of your phone, and damage, among many others. The scope of coverage offered typically includes the following: Physical accidental damage leading to complete breakdown Loss due to personal negligence: phone is lost, misplaced, forgotten, fallen, or missing Damage/theft during riots or strikes Theft and robbery from a break-in to a home, other building, or vehicle Damage due to fire, explosion, or lightning Exposure to fluid leading to damages in internal parts A loss suffered at the time when the device being used by a third party The loss during criminal activities such as terrorist activity or cyber attacks Damage due to incorrect set-up and installations Why should you get mobile phone insurance? New cell phones come with a default warranty of one year, which covers some of the damages. But what about after the warranty is terminated? At that point, you’ll need mobile phone insurance for your device if you don’t want to pay for problems with your phone out of pocket. As with many types of insurance plans, mobile insurance has its naysayers like those who believe that securing or protecting your phone in the event of theft, loss, or damage is a waste of money. But consider these five reasons why a mobile protection plan is actually worth it. 1. A good phone case does not cover everything Spending money on a really good protective mobile phone case is a smart move, since it is all that comes in between your cell phone and the sidewalk in an unfortunate fall. However, a phone case does not prevent your phone from getting stolen, lost, or ruined from liquid damage. Approximately 75 million phones are lost, damaged, or stolen each year at a rate of 2.4 phones every second. Mobile phone insurance covers most of the damage you can possibly imagine, including accidental damage, liquid damage, and normal wear and tear. 2. The deductibles are lower than the cost of a new cell phone Even when you add up the upfront, monthly (if month-to-month), and deductible costs of phone insurance, it’s still cheaper than needing to buy a new cell phone. Sometimes, people with mobile phone insurance are surprised to find that they have to spend an additional deductible when filing a claim. But with insurance, you still come out ahead. The average cost of a non-contract mobile phone is approximately $540. The average deductible is somewhat lower even factoring in the monthly insurance price. 3. Claim filing is very simple Contrary to what you might think, filing a mobile insurance claim is not much of a bother and you won’t be on hold for very long. You can make a claim with your cell phone carrier or a third-party provider 24/7 online or over the phone. Additionally, third-party insurance companies send approximately 95 percent of their replacement phones out for next business day delivery. 4. Outside fixes are unsafe If your smartphone breaks, your only option aside from buying a new phone (or going without one) is to get it repaired. However, third-party device fixes frequently void the manufacturer warranty on your mobile phone. Generally, a manufacturer’s warranty does not cover lost, stolen, or waterlogged phones anyway. And if something happens to your phone after the warranty ends, the manufacturer is free and you are stuck with a bill. 5. Peace of mind Sometimes insurance doesn’t seem worth it at first glance because consumers think “It won’t happen to me.” That is possible: you may never lose your cell phone. You may never drop your cell phone in the toilet or from a fifteen-story building. Similarly, you may never get into a car accident. But you still need auto insurance. The point is, you are taking a risk by going without mobile phone protection. But when you do get a service protection plan, you get the peace of mind from not needing to worry about the “what ifs” regarding your phone. Cell phone insurance is worth the money and the hassle. Plus, when you purchase device coverage insurance, there are usually other add-on services available as well, including the following: Virus protection Phone location service apps Live technical support Automatic data backup Do your research and thoroughly read through the fine print of mobile insurance plan terms and conditions prior to purchasing coverage. David Rodriguez is a writer living in Texas and currently working for EverythingBreaks.com i.e. Consumer Electronic Warranty Provider Company, which also offers mobile phone insurance plans. He is very passionate about his work. Also a fan of technology, travel, and programming, he likes to write on various topics.
There’s no shortage of headlines exposing smartphones as a platform for predator grooming, bullying, and self-loathing among teens and tweens. For any child with a smartphone, these dangers are constantly within arms reach — and it’s terrifying. According to a recent poll administered by Branded Research for Best Company, 9 percent of U.S. consumers say that it’s fine to give a phone to kids age 10 and younger. Most consumers (78 percent) say that children and teens should be given a cell phone between the ages of 11-16. But even though they think youth should have phones, 86 percent of consumers are concerned about young people’s cell phone use — and rightfully so. The top concern is safety from predators, followed by social concerns, explicit material, academic concerns, and physical health. What is your biggest concern with child/teen cell phone use? Safety from predators — 33% Social concerns — 26% Explicit material — 14% Academic concerns — 7% Physical health — 6% No concerns — 14% It’s clear that many parents are caught between a rock and a hard place. Our culture depends so much upon mobile devices that it is expected that teens have one, yet there are very real dangers. So you’re probably asking yourself: How can I utilize the benefits of cell phone access while maintaining my child’s safety and overall well-being? We’re here to help you discover how to do just that. The solution: parent education + carrier controls Using the “concerns” categories of the above-mentioned survey as a guide, we’ll share recommendations for healthy child phone use, provided by experts in technology, psychology, and education. We also researched the parental control capabilities and the accompanying apps of our highest-ranked cell phone providers — Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T — to determine which carrier provides the best options for safe teen phone use. The parent control capabilities reviewed are based on the free features offered by each carrier combined with its respective paid companion app: T-Mobile Family Allowances (free) and FamilyMode app ($10/month) AT&T Smart Limits (free) and Secure Family app ($7.99/month) Verizon Family Controls (free) and Smart Family app ($4.99/month without location and alerts, $9.99/month for premium) The importance of healthy modeling Of course, creating a digitally safe home involves more than purchasing an app and running through a checklist of to-dos. So before deciding how you want to approach each category of teen phone safety, take an inventory of your own phone use — and what changes you can make to improve your relationship with your children through trust and quality time. Digital literacy advocate and author Diana Graber introduces this foundational concept well: “Obey your own house rules, and remember your children are watching.” When kids, whether preschoolers or teenagers, see parents on their own devices constantly, what message does that send about what’s normal for screen use? What message does it send about priorities? Public speaker and Instagram crusader Collin Kartchner is working to #SavetheKids and #SavetheParents through education and discussion about the need for time away from screens. He says that smartphones can disconnect parents from their kids, distracting them from who is truly important. Kartchner’s catchphrase? "Showing your kids you love them is 2% effort and 98% putting down your phone."Click to tweet Safety from predators It’s no surprise that the number one concern with teen cell phone use is safety from predators. The anonymity of the internet combined with children’s access to smartphones creates alarmingly ample opportunities for predators to manipulate teens.But there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of danger. Monitor contacts and messages Clinical psychologist and sexual violence prevention author Elizabeth Jeglic advises parents to set and enforce clear boundaries for phone use from the very beginning. But if you aren’t currently enforcing clear boundaries, don’t despair — it’s better late than never. In order to expect limits to be effective, clear communication and consistency are key. “Phones should not be allowed in rooms at night,” Jeglic says. “Not only do they interfere with sleep, but research also shows that the majority of teens who are talking to strangers online or via text do so after their parents go to sleep.”Jeglic also recommends parents have teens sign a usage contract, such as this one, that gives parents the right to their phone password to discourage inappropriate communications. “Let your children know that you need their password to access the phone and you have the right to check what they are doing on their phone, including what they are texting and to whom.” Justin Lavelle, online background check expert and CCO of BeenVerified, also emphasizes the importance of complete parent access to a child’s phone. “Be clear with them about the frequency with which you plan to check their phone,” he explains. Then, be sure to follow through and check it — frequently. Lavelle advises that parents look at their child’s contact list and consider calling unfamiliar contacts to ensure this is someone you want your child communicating with. Lavelle points out that there are phone carriers that will give you the option to set up the phone where it only functions with the contact numbers you’ve approved. Restrict apps It’s a horrifying reality that children and teens are being exploited via popular apps that have the ability to hide content, stream live video, exchange photos and videos, and even simply send and receive messages with strangers. And many apps, like Snapchat, can’t be monitored by parental control apps or devices. Limiting access to certain apps is key. Lavelle explains that both Apple and Android phones can be set up to restrict kids’ ability to download any new apps or to give kids access only to apps that have been approved by you. Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T all offer some degree of app blocking, app filtering, phone number management, and location services. Carrier comparison: Safety from predators Verizon Block calls and texts from up to 20 phone numbers Service blocks control new apps and services on devices — app downloads require permission Can limit apps based on age or manually disallow apps Location services, including alerts with 7-day location history Block up to 15 email addresses, vtext IDs, and/or Internet domains T-Mobile Block calls and texts from up to 10 phone numbers Use a current allowance to specify the amount of money allowed to spend on app downloads Can limit apps based on age or manually disallow apps Location services, including alerts with 7-day location history AT&T Block calls and texts from up to 30 phone numbers Block app purchases from the Apple store or Google Play Can limit apps based on age or manually disallow apps Location services, including alerts with 7-day location history Social concerns Social concerns are also a big concern with teen phone use and encompass bullying, isolation, social anxiety, negative body image, and problems with friends and family. Interestingly, the survey results show that younger consumers are more likely than older consumers to cite social concerns as their biggest issue with child/teen cell phone use. It’s possible that younger consumers’ concerns reflect negative experiences they’ve personally had growing up with cell phones. Fortunately, parents can insulate their kids from these effects to some degree by setting appropriate age boundaries and time limits. Wait until an appropriate age Digital safety educator Collette Bowers Zinn suggests that every family should make the decision regarding the appropriate age for a mobile device in part based on finances, the child’s maturity, and social and environmental circumstances. But safety should be paramount — not peer pressure. “Parents shouldn’t feel pressured if their children have school friends who already have smart devices,” cautions Zinn. “There are many factors to consider when deciding the appropriate age to give a child a smartphone, but there is overwhelming evidence that eighth grade is the ideal age. Parents can visit waituntil8th.org for more information on the research behind this theory.” Waiting to grant smartphone access gives your child the opportunity to develop healthy social skills and relationships. Diana Graber encourages parents to keep these benefits in mind as they make decisions about their child’s screen time. In her book Raising Humans in a Digital World, Graber says, “Be mindful of what young children need most — face-to-face interaction with loving human beings. This is how children gain social skills, emotional self-control, creativity, resilience, and most of all, the ability to get along with other people and to see things from other perspectives.” Set screen time limits All three of the major carriers we’ve compared offer the ability to pause and resume internet access, set device time limits, and limit access to texts, calls, and data. The experts emphasize the importance of setting those time limits for optimal social health. When time with screens is limited, children can use their time for other pursuits like spending time in nature, learning new skills, playing sports, doing service around the community, practicing other hobbies, and developing friendships in person.Justin Lavelle suggests parents enforce (and follow themselves!) a no cell phone policy during important family times like family meals and outings. “Family time should be designed to have family members interacting in a meaningful way,” he explains. “If your child is endlessly texting at the dinner table and you’re consistently being interrupted by the sound of a message entering their inbox, it’s a recipe for a hostile situation.” You can avoid these situations by setting clear boundaries ahead of time so that everyone knows what to expect. Dr. Gilbert Chalepas, clinical and family psychologist, echoes this sentiment about family meals in particular. “The whole point of family meals is to enjoy the meal you are sharing as well as each other’s company.” Regarding family activities and outings, Chalepas says teens should either leave the phone at home or in the car. And if an unforeseen “teen emergency” arises? “Give them five minutes to finish up and put it away.” Carrier comparison: Social protections Verizon Instantly pause and resume mobile internet access over Wi-Fi Pause and resume access to data Set regular device time limits on a customizable scheduleLimit access to texts and calls T-Mobile Instantly pause and resume mobile internet access over Wi-Fi Pause and resume access to data Set regular device time limits only through preset time slot options Limit access to texts and calls Set time limits on specific apps and platforms AT&T Instantly pause and resume mobile internet access over Wi-Fi Pause and resume access to data Set regular device time limits on a customizable scheduleLimit access to texts and calls Explicit material It’s not a matter of if your child will view explicit content, but when. You can’t completely shelter your child from ever encountering media that is pornographic, violent, or self-harming. But content filters and restrictions should be utilized to minimize the exposure. Utilize content filters Diana Graber recommends three general principles to follow when it comes to monitoring on-screen content: Watch and play the video games your children are playing Keep electronic media in public places Talk to the parents of your children’s friends about what your children do at their homes Beyond setting app restrictions, parents should consider blocking certain websites, setting time restrictions on internet browsing access, and setting up online filters based on age through their phone carrier. Photo/texting restrictions Sending sexually explicit text messages and images, or sexts is more common than parents might think. According to a study published in 2018, about 15 percent of teens are sending sexts and 27 percent of teens are receiving sexts. Elizabeth Jeglic says parents need to address this issue. “Talk to your kids about what types of pictures it is okay to take and send via text. Even forwarding a naked picture of another minor can be considered transmission of child pornography.” Gilbert Chalepas recommends parents “restrict camera usage and access or download an app to do it for you. Things can quickly get out of hand by taking video in locker rooms, for example, so monitor camera use closely. You don’t want your kids being labeled as a sex offender.” Carrier comparison: Blocking explicit material Verizon Block apps and filter online content based on age (children 7+, teens 13+, young adults 17+) and category (violence, drugs, pornography) Block music and video content by age Cannot monitor content of text messages T-Mobile Block apps and filter online content based on set filter levels of high, medium, & low View website history Cannot monitor content of text messages AT&T Block apps and filter online content based on age Block picture and video messages except for iMessages like WhatsApp, FaceTime, Kik, Line, ViberCannot monitor content of text messages Parent is notified when a child tries to access blocked app or web content Academic concerns and physical health When left unchecked, cell phone usage can interfere with academic performance and can get in the way of adequate sleep. Screen time limits can be an important part of the solution to these concerns. School restrictions Author Rachel Macy Stafford has written about the benefits of screen time boundary setting on her blog Hands Free Mama. Her blog and book of the same title center around this concept: "Let go of what doesn't matter, so you can grasp what DOES."Click to tweet After setting screen time limits as a family, Stafford explains that “we all began to make better choices in respect to how we were using our time, focus, and energy. Not only did my children's academic performance improve, but there was more connection, conversation, laughter, and togetherness than before.”Some teens are using phones at school to cheat, gossip, or bully a classmate. But even if your teen isn’t involved in those particular behaviors, it can still be beneficial to have them leave the phone at home. “Using their cell phones in school is a learning distraction,” explains Justin Lavelle. “The easiest solution is to have your child hand over their cell phone in the morning before school.”For parents that would like their children to have their cell phones on them so that they can get in touch after school, enforce a limited number of texts and/or phone calls after school or remind them that you will be checking their phone records. Then, as with all of these boundaries — make sure to follow through! Gilbert Chalepas points out that even though some schools have rules regarding phones, kids can come up with inventive ways to get around them, so support the school by enforcing the rules at home. Chalepas notes that “you may also consider banning cell phone use during weekday mornings if your child has a hard time getting ready before school on time.” Bedtime restrictions There really aren’t any good reasons for teens to have a smartphone in their bedroom at night, so enforce a no cell phone policy. A child’s quality and quantity of sleep each night influences behavior and performance in school the next day. Chalepas suggests that a good way to enforce such a policy is “to have everyone’s cell phone charging at the same place in a designated spot, so no one can cheat, including the parents because they need rest too.” Another consideration: use a basic or flip phone As you weigh parental control options between cell phone carriers, know that you’re not at the mercy of the specific control options available. Ultimately, you are in control of the type of phone you get for your kids. According to the Branded Research poll referenced in this article, a slight majority — 55 percent — say that teens should be given a smartphone rather than a basic or flip phone. Younger consumers are more likely than older consumers to favor smartphones for children and teens. But the 45 percent who favor basic phones might be on to a viable solution to many of the concerns regarding teen phone use. Switching to basic phones or adding additional basic phones to use occasionally can be a hassle and is not necessarily cost-effective if some phone lines on the plan still require data. However, it’s worth looking into. All three of the top carriers offer talk and text only plans and a limited inventory of basic phone models. Carrier comparison: Flip phone plan options Verizon Talk and text + 500 MB data for downloading ringtones: $30/month T-Mobile Talk and Text: $20/month (taxes and fees included) Unlimited Talk & Text cannot be added to an existing T-Mobile One account with more than one voice line AT&T Talk and text: $30/month or $25 with AutoPay You can buy 100 MB high-speed data package for 30 days for $5 extra Which carrier’s controls are best? The parental controls for all three carriers give parents these essential capabilities: Instantly turn off Wi-Fi access Instantly turn off data access Limit apps available for download Limit time spent on device Limit call minutes and number of text messages Locate family members’ locations and location history (for 7 days) There are limitations that apply across the board: The app needs to be downloaded on your child’s phone for full functionality The content of account members’ text messages is inaccessible through any of these carriers The free versions have limited features The free versions work only during the time spent roaming in the carrier’s network What sets Verizon Smart Family apart Verizon Smart Family allows you to block age-inappropriate music and video content in addition to content on apps and websites. It also comes with internet spam and phishing protection, including the ability to block up to 15 email addresses, vtext IDs, and/or internet domains. In addition, Verizon recently introduced JustKids, a kid-focused add-on available with any Verizon plan. However, the Verizon parental controls do not work on tablets and you won’t be notified if your child attempts to access blocked content. What sets T-Mobile FamilyMode apart T-Mobile FamilyMode allows parents to reward kids with bonus screen time such as extending a time limit or disabling an “off” time. You can set time limits on specific apps and platforms in addition to overall device time limits. Plus, FamilyMode can actually manage non-mobile devices connected to your home Wi-Fi, like gaming consoles, laptops, and Smart TVs. There is an upfront fee of $20 for the FamilyMode Home Base. However, the parent’s version of the FamilyMode app can be accessed via Android devices only. If you have an Apple device, you must access the parental controls via My T-Mobile Online. What sets AT&T Secure Family apart AT&T Secure Family has the unique ability to block picture and video text messages on certain accounts. It gives a second parent admin access, works with tablet devices, and parents are notified when a child tries to access a blocked app or web content. However, the app is not yet compatible with pre-paid devices and services. Regardless of the carrier you choose, supplemental apps and measures may be necessary. Collette Bowers Zinn counsels parents to put the time and energy into researching and implementing parental controls on the phone itself, such as Apple Parental Controls Screen Time settings, app allowances, and content and privacy restrictions. As for third-party apps, Zinn recommends Net Nanny, Secure Teen, and Teen Safe. As a parent, you can’t control everything. But you can control your own behavior with phones, the phone you buy your child, the limits you set, and the consequences you enforce. And someday, hopefully, your kids will thank you for letting them be just that — kids.
Cell phone use is so seamlessly integrated into nearly every aspect of personal and professional life that imagining any further convenience and capabilities can boggle the mind. But there are some amazing features and new innovations on the horizon for the cell phone industry. We enlisted a panel of tech experts to weigh in on aspects of the short-term and long-term future of cell phones. Increased data capacity and speed Kevin Hasley, Head of Product at RootMetrics by IHS Markit“Consumers are bombarded with carrier claims about providing the fastest, most reliable, or overall best network. But the truth is that these claims depend on how and where a specific person uses his or her smartphone most. This is why we develop our comprehensive National Report, which provides insight on network performance across the country, within each of the 50 states and throughout the biggest 125 cities. By combining these insights, our report allows smartphone users to see through the hype and gain an accurate picture of mobile network performance where they spend most of their time.Our latest edition reveals interesting shifts at the metro level, which provides the most relevant insight for consumers that live or work in urban areas. In the biggest U.S. cities, the carriers make network speed and reliability top priorities. With the carriers investing in building out their networks in preparation for 5G, we can expect to see continued speed improvements in the coming months. Once carriers’ 5G rollouts are complete, network data performance should increase significantly, allowing smartphone users to seamlessly use their devices for more complex activities, from live video streaming to interactive gaming via virtual reality.”Logan Abbott, President of Wirefly“The number one new technology that will take the cell phone industry by storm is 5G connectivity. It’s the number one feature people will be looking for in their smartphones in the second half of 2019 and into 2020. In the United States, large carriers like Verizon and AT&T are already starting to slowly roll out their 5G networks, although most smartphones won’t be able to take advantage of it. In late 2019, 5G will start to spread across the country and the globe, so consumers will need a smartphone that can take advantage of 5G connectivity and boost their data speeds to heretofore unseen high speeds, in the realm of 50 times the speed of current 4G.” Higher demand for data tracking apps Jacqueline Hugo, CTO of Hugomatica “With 5G, the capacity and speed for data downloads is going to increase approximately tenfold. Currently, the average consumer uses 2GB of data per month. Available bandwidth is always consumed by new applications or behaviors. With 5G, streaming higher quality video will be faster (with less buffering), and that will be a temptation that is hard to resist. In a few years, the average consumer usage could increase to 20GB per month. How will that impact you? If you do not have an unlimited plan, then your 2GB plan with 5G data could easily be exceeded. So, you could be paying $20 a month for 2GB of data before 5G came along and if you don't move to a higher plan and you use 20GB of data, you could end up paying $290 per month (assuming $15 per Gig for data above the 2 Gig amount).For international travel, the impact could be much larger. With a rate of $2.05 per MB for data above 2GB for some countries, even a 1GB overage would be an extra $2,050 cell bill. Imagine going over by 10GB (hard to do before 5G), that would be an extra $20,500 charge on your cell bill! So applications to remind people about cellular data usage when they leave the country or their free Wi-Fi area will be necessary, such as Hoogo for Apple devices.” Remote physical connectivity Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVOIP “We've evolved beyond PSTN to the VoIP era, and now we're looking at 5G, which is right around the corner. With 5G, we'll have devices in our hands that enable us to live "smart lives" — the ability to move greater data loads with lower latency, and across a wider range of devices and sensors means that we'll be able to use our handheld cell phone to control devices in our home, workplace, and elsewhere. Cell phones will not only be able to move money and connect with loved ones, but be connected with physical devices such as coffee makers and blenders, home locks and car doors, etc. Cell phones are already incredibly convenient, but their functionality is going to become even more diverse in the next 5-10 years.” Yaniv Masjedi, CMO of Nextiva“Many people assume that cellphones have already reached their peak usefulness. We are actually on the cusp of the next evolution, though it may take another five years before we get there. By the end of the 2020s, cell phones will have many new abilities, while seeing the streamlining of their current functions. For example, not only will your phone be able to check work email and voicemail, but it will also be able to monitor physical workspaces through connectivity with sensors and cameras. In your personal life, your phone already grants access to financial information and personal connections. Soon, your phone will allow you to make physical transactions, remotely open your home's door to a visitor, and much more. All of this is going to become possible thanks to the emergence of 5G technology, which is going to connect our handheld cellphone with more remote sensors and tools." Increased remote work capabilities Yaniv Masjedi, CMO of Nextiva "As employees become increasingly remote and non-geography specific, there comes an increased need for applications that help people better manage their work, and complete their work from wherever they happen to be located. One big trend that is having an impact is the number of people opting for remote and freelancer opportunities. This is changing the structure of the employment world and demands for technology to support self-managing employees. Consider Nextiva, a technology business built from the development of VoIP technology, now providing CRM, sales and marketing tools. These are systems that were once developed only for large organizations (consider the IBM model) and now there is demand from a single user all the way up to workplaces of thousands. Instead of only creating a solution for enterprise level, there is now a huge opportunity to develop solutions for small and sole operator organizations.” Complete system integration Mike Towler, President of Mike’s PC Repair “I believe as time progresses that one of the primary improvements we will see is complete system integration of all a user’s accounts, data, preferences and everything about them. Apps will communicate with each other in a much better fashion than where we are today. Apple has been pushing this hard for quite some time now. Eventually I believe all user accounts will be merged into one master account instead of having a Facebook account, Twitter, Instagram etc. You will have one account that will contain all other data from there. I also believe that with the advancements in IoT technology there will be a huge push for more complete integration with cell phone technology where your phone will be your primary hub for everything else including house, car, etc.” Bendable screens and wireless chargers Youssef Botros, National Training Manager at Mobile Klinik“Foldable screens are coming. The tech world believes Samsung (and potentially others) are going to show off exciting smartphones or prototypes with foldable screens in Barcelona this year at the World Mobile Congress. The smart bet is that Samsung will manufacture some size of foldable screen smartphone shipment for Asia as a luxury device for early tech adopters, but it’s currently unclear how broadly they'll be expanded into the rest of the global consumer market.It’s also a good bet that multiple, advanced cameras will be coming to both the front and back screen of the smartphone at some point in the future. Quality cameras are a highly desirable and marketable function of the consumer smartphone.”Alex Reichmann, CEO of iTestCash“From everything I've seen, I suspect future phones are going to be big in wireless charging and bendable technology. Once the technology does catches, who would ever want to use a charger again? The bendable technology will also be a hip selling point for younger consumers. How cool and fun to be able to bend your phone however you want.” Improved biometrics Mike Towler, President of Mike’s PC Repair “While facial recognition and biometrics has been out for a while now, it still has a long way to go. I believe that in the coming years we will see rapid advancements in the technology in this field. Furthermore, I believe instead of just unlocking your phone via facial recognition, that all apps and accounts will replace traditional logins with vastly improved biometric technology.” Higher demand for custom numbers Ellen Sluder, VP of Marketing at RingBoost “One thing we’re seeing with apps like Verizon’s My Numbers is the ability in the future to have multiple lines ring easily to a single cell phone. This is something entrepreneurial customers are especially excited about, so they no longer have to carry two devices — one for business and one for personal.While we primarily deal with SMBs who purchase phone numbers for marketing purposes, we’ve seen a marked increase in phone numbers being purchased for personal use. We predict that is going to be the future of consumer cell phone purchases: when someone goes into a store to buy a new phone and sign up for a new plan, they will have an option to purchase a custom phone number to go along with it. It’s something consumers can already do, it’s just that most don’t realize it and instead accept whatever number the phone carrier offers them. At RingBoost, for example, customers can pick a local phone number with a vanity word such as their name or an easy-dial pattern that makes conveying their numbers to others a lot easier.” Texting integration and upgrades Dennis Bartel, CEO of Biz Text “With text messaging the number one use for cell phones, there will be more attention to texting and integration/upgrades with the OS and phone technologies. As Forbes discussed recently, millennials have an aversion to making phone calls, preferring email or text. Texting is also becoming more prominent in the medical industry for patients to communicate with doctors and offices, and address health crises. Texting is the number one use of cell phones, so development and implementation of better user interfaces and user experience should be a top focus of mobile technology development.In the future, businesses will rely more on texting as a communication channel to contact them. As a result, texting apps will, for example, have the ability to add subjects, define acronyms with an acronym dictionary, and even add attachments — all the functionality of email in a text.”