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5 unexpectedly useful apps

Liane Cassavoy | July 30, 2014
You probably didn't know you needed a color-coded goal manager or a dedicated email tracker. But once you try these apps, you'll wonder how you ever lived without them.

These days, there really is an app for almost anything--even things you may never have thought of. Want to connect two previously unlinked web services? An app can help. Want to link two previously unconnected devices? Yup, there's an app for that, too. Read on for information on five of my favorite unexpectedly useful apps.


iOS, Android, web; free

IFTTT has long been one of my favorite apps. This free tool, which works on the web and on Android and iOS devices, lets you create recipes that result in automatic actions online. Don't worry: it's far less confusing than it sounds. IFTTT stands for "If this then that"--when one thing happens, IFTT lets you create an automatic reaction. You can, for example, create a recipe that allows you to receive a text message whenever a photo of you is posted to Facebook. Or one that sends an iOS notification if the forecast calls for rain. Or one that automatically turns on your ringtone in the morning. The possibilities are almost endless, and IFTTT provides a collection of public recipes you can adapt for your own needs, so you don't have to spend too much time thinking over all of those possibilities yourself.


 iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, Windows; free

Pushbullet works hand-in-hand with IFTTT, as you can create IFTTT recipes based on Pushbullet's actions. But even without IFTTT, Pushbullet is pretty darn useful. This free tool is available as an app for Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, and Windows that lets you share content between devices with a simple click. On the desktop or a mobile device, you can use PushBullet's simple, email-like interface to share a picture, file, link, list, or location from or to your phone or computer. And if you have the browser extension installed, sharing an item from your desktop is even easier, as you can add a PushBullet option to your right-click menu.


iOS, Android, web; free, $5/month for Pro account

I have to admit that I was very skeptical about focus@will. This web service and mobile app (for Android and iOS devices) claims to help boost your attention span--as much as 400 percent--while you're working. It does this by supplying a stream of soothing music perfectly timed (about 60 beats per minute) to drown out background distractions but without becoming a distraction itself. I can't say whether focus@will really did improve my concentration by 400 percent, but I did find it easier to get work done while classical music spilled from my speakers. A free account is limited to 60 minutes of playback, while a Pro account ($5 per month) eliminates that restriction and lets you select various tunes from focus@will's library.


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