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This article was published on December 15, 2011

10 apps and plugins to simplify your life

10 apps and plugins to simplify your life
Anna Heim
Story by

Anna Heim

Anna Heim is the founder of MonoLibre and a freelance writer for various tech and startup publications. She is a polyglot French news junkie Anna Heim is the founder of MonoLibre and a freelance writer for various tech and startup publications. She is a polyglot French news junkie with a love for technology.

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Do you think of the Internet as a time waster? Think again: while it’s very easy to procrastinate on the Web, it’s also likely that you’ve saved hundreds of hours thanks to sites and apps you couldn’t even dream of mere years ago.

And there’s more: even here at The Next Web, we constantly discover new services which are making our lives easier. From booking flights to remembering appointments, from printing a document to setting up a conference call, here are 10 lifehacks you should know:

1. Smart navigation with Google Maps

Do you remember the last time you asked a stranger for directions? Or the last time you drew a map before leaving home? If you have access to the Internet on your mobile phone, chances are it was a long time ago. With Google Maps‘ app and mobile version, you can look at any map directly on your phone.

It’s not just about reading it: with geo-location and navigation enabled, all you have to do is to “follow the dot” to check whether you’re walking in the right direction or not. The store you went to didn’t have the product you were looking for? Instead of going home empty-handed, you can search for its competitor’s nearest shop.

Other features, like Latitude for seeing where friends are and built-in driving navigation in the Android version, add to the service’s usefulness.

Put all this together and think about the time you save every time you use the app. Now multiply by millions users, and you’ll understand this declaration Google’s Marissa Mayer made at LeWeb conference in Paris last week:

“We save two years, every day, of idle time [by] using Google Maps and Navigation.”

Not bad for a single tool.

➤  Google Maps for Mobile

2. Book flights and hotels with Hipmunk

As we all noticed, the Internet has disrupted the travel industry. Who needs a travel agent to book flights? Yet, the whole flight booking process can still be a pain, as we try to find the right balance between the cheapest price and the best schedule. This is what Hipmunk decided to focus on; instead of showing you flights by price or time, it opts for the one with the least “agony”.

Besides these well-thought default settings, you can also add multiple criteria to make sure the flight is tailored to your needs – you can even check if a flight has free WiFi on board (see our post).

As we reported in March, Hipmunk also lets you book a hotel through its platform. Instead of focusing on Agony like it does for flights, its main criteria for hotel search is Ecstasy, which it describes as a “combination of price, amenities and reviews.”

Beyond Agony and Ecstasy, what makes Hipmunk even greater is its design. It’s not just about its uber-cute mascot; the way it displays flights combines readability with extensive search results.

➤  Hipmunk, also available in the iOS App Store and Android Market

3. Schedule conference calls with Time and Date’s Meeting Planner

If you’re a frequent traveler or simply have friends and colleagues in different time zones, you’re probably familiar with, best known for its World Clock. As its name suggests, it lets you know what time it is all across the world.

If you’re only using the site for its basic features, you may be tempted to drop it for better-looking sites, such as EveryTimeZone. But what you may not know is that Time and Date also offers advanced functions that can save you a lot of time.

My personal favorite? It’s the advanced meeting planner. Picking a good virtual meeting time for a team working across multiple locations can be a nightmare, but with a tool like this one, it’s a matter of minutes. All you have to do is enter the different cities and the date, and you’ll get results, with a color code to avoid waking up people in the middle of the night:

If for some reason you didn’t like the Meeting Planner’s design, you may also want to try WorldTimeBuddy, which offers a solid alternative (see our previous story).

4. Get task reminders with Remember The Milk

Remember The Milk: what better name for a to-do list app? But it’s not just thanks to its name that Remember The Milk is now one of the most popular apps in this category.

Available on Android and iOS, Remember The Milk makes it very easy to create and edit tasks. You can get these reminders on multiple supports: within the app on your mobile phone, but also via SMS, via Twitter and via your mail client on your PC.

Remember The Milk, via multiple platforms

➤  Advanced Meeting Planner, also available in the App Store

 5. Turn web pages into PDF with Joliprint

If you’ve ever tried to print a web page from a site which doesn’t have a Print button, you know it can be a huge waste of paper, as annoying web layouts can result in dozens of almost blank pages at the end of your document.

With this problem in mind, the French tool Joliprint (“Nice print”) makes saving web pages as PDF files absolute bliss. That’s pretty much all it does, but it does it very well.

While publishers can add a Joliprint button to their website, readers can also install an add-on in their browser, including Safari on the iPad. Once installed, it lets them save any article in a few clicks. They can then download and archive the PDF or share it via email and social networks.

The PDF format is also very convenient for reading, with makes Joliprint a competitor to Read It Later and the like – it even offers you the option to receive a “magazine” of your reading list.

➤  Joliprint

6. Know your contacts with Rapportive

When we first wrote about Rapportive over a year ago, we described it as a “slick social CRM tool” for Gmail. Although it has improved even further since then, this is still what it is: a Gmail plugin which gives you all the information you need about your contacts, directly in your inbox.

Compatible with Safari, Firefox and Chrome, Rapportive’s add-on is integrated with social networks, allowing you to begin your email with a personal touch like mentioning the recipient’s latest tweet. It also means you don’t need to Google people who emailed you to understand who they are or find their Facebook account (see our previous post).

Thanks to advanced features, you can also add personal notes to each profile, and find out if your contacts are nearby through geo-location.

Here’s what Rapportive looks like:


7. Take notes with Evernote

With apps like Dropbox and Evernote, USB flash drives may very soon be as irrelevant as floppy disks. If you’re familiar of Dropbox’s ubiquitous folder concept, you may already know that Evernote applies the same sync principle to note-taking.

With Evernote, you can write and save a document on your mobile device and access it later from your laptop – and vice-versa.

This is a huge time-saver: no need to move files around or to email them to yourself. You can also wave goodbye to multiple, non-updated copies of a same document; with Evernote, you only need one.

Besides its highly popular product, Evernote has also recently launched two new iPhone apps, which promise to make your life even easier. Called Evernote Hello and Evernote Food, they respectively let you create quick contact profiles and list your favorite meals – all of this powered by Evernote’s synchronized note-taking platform.

Evernote, via multiple platforms

8. Ask Siri

While it was only launched two months ago, Siri is probably the world’s most famous personal assistant. The app is also one of the main assets of Apple’s latest smartphone. The iPhone 4S is the only one to be compatible with Siri, which is pre-installed on the device (see our post).

Thanks to Siri’s voice recognition capacities, we can now talk to our phone and get the answers we were looking for. Our questions don’t have to be perfect, as Siri is even able to interpret it to some degree. Integrated into a device we carry around all day, it makes Siri the go-to app to get solutions to our daily problems, from looking up an address to finding a phone number.

The technology itself isn’t entirely ground-breaking. Voice recognition isn’t new, and apps like Dragon Dictate have been able to convert our speech into text for a while. However, the AI-powered Siri is taking it one step further, giving us the impression it understand us. This is what makes it so fascinating and useful at the same time.


9. Make free calls with Skype and Google Voice

If you are in a long-distance relationship, live away from your family or have friends abroad, you already know this: VoIP has changed the way we communicate. While long-distance phone calls used to be short, matter-of-fact conversations, we can now talk for hours with our international contacts without worrying about our bill.

Indeed, services like Skype and Google Voice offer free or near-free calls. We chose to mention both services here, because the best app for you depends on your location. While Microsoft-owned Skype is probably the best option in many countries around the world, Google’s app is a serious contender in the USA, where it offers a personal phone number and free domestic calls through Gmail (see our

Of course, VoIP isn’t only about lower costs, and video calls are one of its main assets, making us feel closer to our loved ones. If it wasn’t for emergency calls, we could even drop our other lines altogether.

➤ Skype, also available via multiple platforms

➤ Google Voice, also available via the App Store

10. Postcard On The Run

If you ever wished you could mail your digital pictures to your family, Postcard On The Run was made for you.

All you have to do is to select the picture, add your message and pay a small fee – the startup will handle the rest, and the contacts you selected will get a printed postcard in the mail. The app itself is free and very easy to use, which makes it particularly appealing for travelers – hence “on the run” in its name.

While Apple itself offers somewhat similar functionalities with Cards, Postcard On The Run is also getting its fair share of attention thanks to the popularity of one of its investors: teen celebrity (and Justin Bieber’s girlfriend) Selena Gomez, which recently gave us an interview about her interest for the app.

➤ Postcard On The Run, via the App Store and Android Market

With so many apps now part of our daily life, we certainly had to leave out tools which are making your life much easier. Do you use any other app to save time? Let us know in the comments.

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