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  • By Lisa Jevens

Communities of Users Make these Apps Great

What makes a really powerful smartphone app? Its community of users! Some of today’s most useful apps rely on real-world information from users, which is then shared with other users in real time. These kinds of apps can help you decide what route to take, which hotel to book, where to eat, or what the weather is like in your corner of town. Here is a short list of some smartphone apps whose online communities can help you navigate your daily life. All of these apps are available for Apple and Android devices.

Waze With Waze as your copilot, you can see exactly what other drivers around you are experiencing on the road. Is there a police car or a pothole up ahead? Waze will show and tell you. If a traffic jam pops up, it will navigate you around it. Waze works because millions of other Waze users are constantly reporting what they see via the app, and so can you. Or you can simply benefit from the reports of others and avoid those potholes and tickets. Waze speaks to you in hands-free mode, so you can keep your eyes on the road while navigating. It even shows you where to get the best price on gas, and a whole lot of other helpful features. The app is an interactive alternative to Google Maps, and is owned by Google. Downloading and using Waze is free.

HotelTonight Need a hotel tonight? Stop procrastinating and download this app. HotelTonight is like the Uber of accommodations. It shows you what rooms are available right now in your location, often with deep discounts based on last-minute availability. It’s based on the premise that a hotel would rather rent a room for less than not at all, so users can save a lot if they are flexible. You can book up to a week ahead, for as many as five nights in a row. There are other users’ reviews to help guide you in your choice, and also HotelTonight’s own description of the property. HotelTonight is a free app, but you must link it to a credit card to hold a reservation.

OpenTable OpenTable, the restaurant reservation app, has more than 1 billion served at 38,000 restaurants around the world. It can instantly find you an available reservation based on your location, price, time, cuisine, and more. Or you can book months ahead. Either way, the app will remind you of your date. With so many users, OpenTable has a good rating system and loads of user reviews to peruse. You also get points each time you use OpenTable, which translate into cash discounts at participating restaurants.

Weather Underground Weather Underground is an ultra-customizable weather app for weather geeks that gives tons of detail using super-accurate microclimate weather forecasts from a network of 200,000 personal weather stations worldwide. (Your house can even become a PWS location if you choose.) The radar screen on Weather Underground can zoom way in with stunning clarity, so you can see your neighborhood. The app is packed with easy-to-read features, such as a chart showing when daylight appears and fades from the sky each day in your location. The only thing it’s lacking is predictive radar that goes forward in time. The free version includes ads; the ad-free version costs $1.99 a year.

Uber Uber is the modern-day version of “hailing a cab,” but with way more accountability. First of all, you get to rate your driver and their car, and your driver can rate you as a customer. Once you set up your Uber account on your phone, you can request a pickup with the push of a button. You will see the photo and name of the person who is about to pick you up, what they and their car look like, and exactly when they will arrive. You will also receive an estimate of how long it will take to arrive at your destination. No money changes hands. You might even get a great deal on a ride depending on rider demand. Due to Uber’s user-friendly reputation, many people from students to moms to retirees are becoming Uber drivers in their spare time too. The app is free but you must link it to a credit card (or debit card with a credit card logo on it) to pay for rides.

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section on September 16, 2016.

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