TIME Smartphones

Americans Spend Nearly 2 Days a Month Using Mobile Apps

How Much Time Americans Spend on Phones
Carlina Teteris—Getty Images/Flickr RF

That's a whole lotta Candy Crush

U.S. adults spend nearly two days per month using apps or web browsers on their phones, according to Nielsen research.

Americans age 18 and up spent an average of 43 hours and 31 minutes per month using apps or web browsers on their phones during the second quarter of 2014, a sharp rise from the 33 hours and 48 minutes per month during the same period last year, according to Nielsen’s second-quarter 2014 Cross-Platform report.

Yet for how much time Americans spend on their phones, they’re using a surprisingly low number of apps. Mobile phone users have installed on average about 42 apps, but the vast majority of them say they’re using fewer than 10 apps on a daily basis, according to Nielsen’s Mobile Apps Playbook. About half claim they’re using only one to four apps on a daily basis.

So what are those apps? According to comScore, the most popular apps in the U.S. in June 2014 were Facebook, YouTube, Google Play, Google Search and Google Maps.

TIME Education

5 Apps That Can Do Your Homework Much Faster Than You

7 Apps That Will Do Your Homework For You
peepo—Getty Images

There's no doubt these academic aids can complete your homework, but whether or not that's cheating is up for debate

In the field of educational technology, some apps might be getting too smart.

More and more apps are delivering on-demand homework help to students, who can easily re-purpose the learning tools to obtain not just assistance, but also answers. Whether or not that’s cheating—and how to stop it—is one of the concerns surrounding a new app that can solve math equations with the snap of a camera. While the software has inspired teachers to create real-world homework problems that can’t be automatically solved, that strategy doesn’t hold up to other apps that tap into real-life brains for solutions.

Here’s a look at five apps that can do your homework for you, and what they have to say about cheating:

PhotoMath

Price: Free
Availability: iOS, Android app coming in early 2015

The new, seemingly magic app allows users to take pictures of typed equations, and then outputs a step-by-step solution. As of Wednesday, the app is the number one free app on the App Store. But the biggest issue, one teacher argues, isn’t if students will use the app to cheat, because many will. Rather, it’s about how teachers will adapt. A PhotoMath spokeswoman said educators have welcomed the app with positive reviews, but the software remains “quite controversial.”

“We didn’t develop PhotoMath as a cheating tool. We really wanted kids to learn,” said Tijana Zganec, a sales and marketing associate at tech company MicroBlink, which created PhotoMath. “If you want to cheat, you will find a way to cheat. But if you want to learn, you can use PhotoMath for that.”

HwPic

Price: Free, but some homework services require payment
Availability: iOS and Android

HwPic is a tutoring service that allows students to take send pictures of their homework to tutors, who will then respond within minutes to your questions with a step-by-step solution. There’s even an option to expedite the answers if a student is in a hurry. HwPic Co-Founder Tiklat Issa said that the app was initially rejected by Apple’s App Store, which believed it would promote cheating, but he successfully argued that just because someone uses the app in a way that it’s not meant to be used doesn’t mean the app should be punished.

Issa added that HwPic prohibits cheating in its terms and conditions. Tutors don’t solve homework that has words like “Quiz” or “Exam,” and they often know if a student is sending a photo during a test if they’ve paid for expedited answers, and if the photo is dim, blurry and taken under a desk. “We’ve minimized cheating,” said Issa. “We haven’t eliminated it. That’s kind of unrealistic.”

Wolfram Alpha

Price: $2.99
Availability: iOS and Android

Wolfram Alpha is similar to PhotoMath, only that it targets older students studying high levels of math and doesn’t support photos. The service also outputs step-by-step solutions to topics as advanced as vector calculus and differential equations, making it a popular tool for college students.

“It’s cheating not doing computer-based math, because we’re cheating students out of real conceptual understanding and an ability to drive much further forward in the math they can do, to cover much more conceptual ground. And in turn, that’s cheating our economies,” said Conrad Wolfram, Wolfram Research’s Director of Strategic Development, in a TEDx Talk. “People talk about the knowledge economy. I think we’re moving forward to what we’re calling the computational knowledge economy.”

Homework Helper

Price: Free
Availability: iOS and Android

Chinese Internet search company Baidu launched an app called Homework Helper this year with which students can crowdsource help or answers to homework. Users post a picture or type their homework questions onto online forums, and those who answer the questions can win e-coins that can be used to buy electronics like iPhones and laptops.

The app has logged 5 million downloads, much to the dismay of many some parents who argue that the students spend less time thinking about challenging problems. A Homework Helper staffer admitted to Quartz, “I think this is a kind of cheating.”

Slader

Price: Free, but some homework services require payment
Availability:
iOS

Slader is a crowdsourcing app for high school and college students to post and answer questions in math and science. While students can post original homework for help, many questions in popular textbooks have already been answered on the app, according to Fast Company. An Illinois high school said earlier this year that it suspected students were using the service to cheat on their math homework.

Slader argues that it’s “challenging traditional ideas about math and education,” and said that the ideas behind its app “aren’t a write-off to teachers,” according to its blog. Slader told San Francisco media outlet KQED that it shouldn’t be dismissed as a cheating tool, but rather considered a way for students to access real-time help.

MONEY Taxes

How to Never Miss Out On One Valuable Tax Break

Odometer
James F. Dean—Getty Images

Workers who drive a lot for business can write off the costs. These three tools can make tracking those miles on the road easier.

More than 40 million Americans earn money while driving around in their cars, making them eligible for a valuable business mileage deduction from the Internal Revenue Service.

At 56¢ a mile, less than two business miles equals a dollar. So for someone driving 25,000 business miles a year, $14,000 in deductions is at stake.

Keeping an accurate mileage log used to be an arduous task involving a notepad and paper, but most people do not bother with the work. Many recreate their trips after the fact. Some just make it up. Do it wrong and you could get an audit.

“Getting a lot of round numbers means people either aren’t tracking or are rounding,” says P.J. Wallin, 33, a certified public account from Richmond, Virginia.

Bill Nemeth, an enrolled agent who represents clients in IRS audits, says most of his clients tend to exaggerate their business mileage and, when audited, it can be challenge to try to prove they actually drove the miles. Nemeth says he even uses Carfax reports from cars that clients have sold in order to document the actual mileage of the vehicles. In more than 25 years of doing taxes, Nemeth can recall only one client who presented a log that was clearly used daily.

MileIQ, which sells a GPS device that helps track mileage, surveyed about 1,000 of its users and found that only 36% of them had kept a written log previously. Another 18% admitted to making up numbers after the fact, 15% said they did nothing with their mileage, and 11% said they used their calendars to go back and recreate driving distances.

But in today’s highly automated world, apps and standalone GPS devices take the work out of the process, so there are no more excuses. Prices and functions vary, and some personal preference is involved.

Here are three different approaches – all of which are tax-deductible as a work expense.

MileIQ

This iPhone app (scheduled to be out soon for Androids) promises to be more automated than its cousins—always running in the background. It costs $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year. Lighter drivers, however, can use it for free. Users can log 40 drives a month before they would have to take a paid subscription, so you can take it for a test drive.

The idea is that the app does most of the work, although eventually users have to look over the results and eliminate listings that were not for business. Data from the app is regularly uploaded to the cloud, and reports sent automatically via email. Users can also customize the data.

MileIQ co-founder Charles Dietrich says the app actually learns from patterns and increasingly knows when a trip is of the reimbursable sort and when it is not.

Easy Mile Log

This device, which costs $149, is a small GPS tracking device you leave in your car. When you start a drive, press a button to note the trip is either work or personal. It will document the date and time of your travels, where you started, where you went and the distance. You can dump the data from the device onto your computer using a USB cord.

EasyBiz Mileage Tracker

At $2.99, EasyBiz Mileage Tracker is a cheaper app option, but not quite as automated as the others. Instead, it relies on the user to create what is basically a computer-assisted mileage log – starting and stopping each trip, while it notes the location and the distance via GPS.

Mileage Tracker allows users to customize report printing and add other entries – like tolls, for instance – that could come in handy when doing mileage reports.

TIME productivity

9 Apps to Help You Completely Organize Your Life

The Google logo is seen at the company's offices on August 21, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.
Adam Berry—Getty Images

Google—and some rivals—want to tame your inbox, calendar and more

Email was supposed to make our lives easier. Instead it’s become a dumping ground for travel itineraries, receipts, social-­media updates, work documents and ­invitations—to say nothing of actual spam. (According to a recent study, most professionals spend almost a third of their workweek just wading through email.) Tech companies have made a sport of vying to tackle data ­deluge—not just in email but in everything from your calendar to your to-do lists—as consumers increasingly complain about information overload.

The latest entrant: Google, which set the standard for streamlined email with Gmail a decade ago. On Oct. 22, the search giant unveiled Inbox, a free smartphone app that acts as a kind of intelligent filter for the unending tide of emails. The app automatically separates receipts, social updates and promotions into distinct categories that can be tackled separately (or ignored completely). Users can “snooze” emails to complete them at a set time or when the user arrives at a designated location—home, for ­instance—as indicated by the phone’s GPS.

(For TIME’s full review, click here.)

“People were trying to run their lives from this email inbox, but that was really a lot of work,” explains Alex Gawley, product director for both Inbox and Gmail. The resulting software is a lot like a cross between the old Gmail and Google Now, the company’s digital personal assistant.

Google’s new app is hardly the only option, though. Here’s a quick look at several others trying to become your digital assistant:

To tame email…

Inbox; iOS, Android
Google tries to streamline email—again. The app highlights information like flight-departure times and friends’ changes of phone numbers. It’s free but currently available by invite only.

CloudMagic; iOS, Android
Searching for emails on a phone can be a grindingly slow process. CloudMagic replaces built-in email apps to provide speedier search.

Boxer; iOS, Android
Boxer applies the interface of popular dating apps like Tinder to email, allowing users to run through messages using gesture-based controls. Swipe to delete messages or send automated responses.

To subdue your calendar…

Sunrise Calendar; iOS, Android
This app has an easy-to-use interface and allows users to add thousands of unique calendars, like sports teams’ schedules. It uses a three-day view rather than the typical weeklong span to cut down on clutter.

Tempo; iOS
Tempo is aimed at people who have to attend a lot of business meetings. It automatically culls details from email threads and the Internet to provide briefings for upcoming rendezvous.

UpTo; iOS, Android
Switching among various digital calendars can be a hassle. UpTo allows users to easily choose the most pertinent events from the calendars of friends and brands (TV schedules, for instance) to add to their own schedules.

And for everything else…

30/30; iOS
This simple task manager lets users divide their days into small increments of focused work (30 minutes by default) punctuated by regular breaks.

Any.Do; iOS, Android
Simple task lists can be accessed across devices with this service. The app encourages users to plan their day and set time or location-based reminders each morning.

Asana; iOS, Android
A task manager built with collaboration in mind, this app allows up to 15 members to collaborate on projects, assigning specific tasks and due dates.

Read next: The 5 Best Smartphone Apps You Should Try This Week

TIME Google

Google’s Amazing New Email App Is Missing This 1 Feature

It doesn't yet work with Google for Work

Learning how to use Inbox, Google’s new algorithm-based email app, is like learning how to drive stick: It’s intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s hard to imagine going back.

I’ve been using Inbox for about a week now as my only means of checking my personal Gmail account, and what I like most is that it treats your email as what email has essentially become: a to-do list. Instead of marking messages as “read,” Inbox lets you cross off items once you’ve accomplished whatever task was asked of you in them:, be it paying a bill, calling your mom, RSVPing for an event. Building an entire email app around that basic concept is not only wise, it also hints at the future of your inbox in a pretty profound way.

Probably my favorite smaller feature is Inbox’s habit of pulling relevant information out of your email and getting it right in your inbox’s home screen. This is particularly handy for things like purchases and flights, where you’ll see data like tracking numbers, expected delivery dates and departure times without even having to open the related email. It’s a similar concept to Google Now, a Google app designed to predict and display information you’ll want at a given point in space and time without you ever having to request it, thanks to an intimate knowledge of your search history and other data.

Inbox also nicely sorts your messages into categories like “Finance,” (read: bills) “Purchases” (receipts) and “Low-Priority” (newsletters). Low-Priority reminds me of another service I’ve used and loved for a few months, Unroll.Me, which takes all the newsletters and daily deal emails that have a nasty habit of languishing in your inbox and collects them into an easy-to-consume daily digest. So far, I’ve been using Unroll.Me in tandem with Inbox, but Inbox is good enough that I might turn Unroll.Me off completely.

What’s wrong with Inbox? Well, for starters, it’s a little hard to learn, mostly because it looks so different than other email software you’ve used before. But really the one thing holding Inbox back is that it doesn’t yet work with Google for Work apps—meaning, if your office is Gmail-based, you can’t use Inbox for your work email yet. That’s a shame, because most of my personal email isn’t actionable, whereas the vast majority of my work email is. Google is considering expanding Inbox to play ball with Google for Work, but a company spokesperson wasn’t able to shed light on when that might happen.

Google Inbox is currently available only by invite on desktop, iOS and Android. It works nicely on both desktop and mobile, but it really shines on phones. Learn more and request your invitation here. Invites were scarce at first, but the word on the street is Google’s been sending more as Inbox interest builds. Google doesn’t have a timeline for when Inbox will go fully public.

 

TIME apps

Download These 5 Smartphone Apps for a Safer Halloween

Have fun and stay safe this Halloween with these apps

Talk about a candy-crush saga: This Friday, the nation’s kids will take to the streets to collect a dentist’s ransom in sugary treats. It’s all good — if a little fattening — fun, but not without a few risks.

For example, some of those streets may be dark. Certain candies could be on the FDA’s recall list. And how well do you really know your neighbors, especially the ones a few blocks over? There might be houses on the route that are best avoided.

It’s okay to worry — that’s what parents do, after all — but if you’re armed with a smartphone, you can make Halloween a bit less of a fright-night. For starters, use the built-in flashlight app to help everyone navigate poorly lit sidewalks. Then fire up these five safety-minded apps. They’re all free and guaranteed to give you some added peace of mind.

1) Life360

Price: Free

So your kids want to go out on their own this year? Guess it had to happen sometime, but you’re still allowed to require one condition: a location-tracking app. Life360 lets you view your trick-or-treaters’ whereabouts on a map, and even create virtual fences so you know if they’ve roamed outside approved territory. The apps are free and available for all three major smartphone platforms: Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Just make sure to get it installed and tested before Friday. Any last-minute delay in letting the kids hit the streets could impact your Almond Joy take.

2) Recalls (iOS) / Recall Watch (Android)

Price: Free

Though it’s unlikely that mountain of fun-size candy bars will cause any more harm than a stomachache, you never know when the Food and Drug Administration will report a contaminated this or tainted that. Before you let the kids tuck into their haul, take a quick peek at one of these FDA-recall apps to make sure there’s nothing candy-specific. And try to resist making one up. “Sorry, kids, looks like the Milky Ways have Mom-enella. I’ll have to confiscate them.”

3) Sex Offender Search (iOS) / Sex Offender Search (Android)

Price: Free

It’s not fun to think about who might be living just around the corner, but obviously parents should know if there’s a registered sex-offender on the trick-or-treating route. These eponymous apps come from different developers, but they accomplish the same core function: display a map of your area and the names and addresses of any residents listed on the National Sex Offender Registry. In most cases, you can even see the person’s mugshot and a summary of their charges.

4) FBI Child ID

Price: Free

It’s even less fun to think about the horrors of child abduction, but the truth is it happens — and the more information you can share with authorities, the better. The FBI’s Child ID app lets you create a complete identification record for each child: height, weight, date of birth, distinguishing features, and so on. A few taps is all it takes to call 911 and/or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and then to transmit your child’s info if necessary. Here’s hoping you never have to use it.

5) American Red Cross First Aid

Price: Free

A trip around the block in the dark while wearing an ill-fitting mask? What could possibly go wrong? Most likely, a trip and fall resulting in a scraped knee or elbow. Worse still, a twisted ankle or broken wrist. And there’s always the risk of choking while scarfing caramels, to say nothing of the stomachache that can follow downing a pile of them. For treating these and other ailments, the Red Cross’ app provides information, illustrations, and in some cases instructional videos. Needless to say, it’s handy for the other 364 days of the year as well.

TIME apps

The 5 Best Smartphone Apps You Should Try This Week

Including Google's attempt to reinvent your inbox

It seems like hundreds of new smartphone apps pop up every day, but which ones should you bother trying? Here, TIME offers a look at five apps for iPhone, iPad and Android that stand out and are worth a shot.

  • Inbox

    Inbox by Google Google

    Although Inbox is currently invitation only, Google’s client may finally be able to eliminate the pitfalls of most email apps. The nefarious search function of Apple’s default iOS client, for example, often yields the wrong results, or none at all; Inbox’s search algorithm is supposed to help circumnavigate the endless message trawling with which we’re all too familiar. But Inbox’s most understated function is also perhaps its most glorious: an email snooze alarm that reminds you to revisit an email you chose to put off.

    Inbox is available for iOS and Android by invitation only; invitations can be requested at inbox@google.com or from some users who already have the app.

     

  • DROP

    DROP DROP

    Although record stores and mix tapes have long been a thing of the past, with the discontinuation of Apple’s iPod Classic and the popularity of Spotify, so perhaps is the easily-shared digital playlist. DROP recommends songs like Pandora, but also allows friends to tweet song recommendations and add them to your playlist. A Facebook wall for song recommendations, DROP can introduce you to new music and play the part of a dive bar jukebox at house parties.

    DROP is available free in the App Store.

  • Openfolio

    Openfoilio Openfoilio

    There are terabytes of YouTube videos dedicated to explaining how the stock market works to people who never took an econ class in college. But when Stock Investing for Dummies fails, Openfolio creates a network of investors to show its users how people are investing. It crowdsources information and helps keep potential investors from buying high and selling low. For the clueless, it’s like ten episodes of Mad Money; for the ruthless, it’s a way of gauging when to sell short.

    Openfolio is available free in the App Store.

  • Slideshare

    Slideshare has been a popular TED-like website for years, hosting informative videos and presentations on various topics for its 60 million monthly viewers. The app allows you to access the entire Slideshare database on your phone. And although some of the content can feel a little too unedited, what separates Slideshare from the dark side of YouTube is the series of professional channels you can follow, including the White House and NASA.

    Slideshare is available free in the App Store.

  • Pixelmator

    Pixelmator Pixelmator

    For people who are used to using the desktop version of Photoshop, Pixelmator is a photo editor much friendlier to your mobile device than many of Adobe’s iPad offerings. The app (which can open and edit Photoshop files) carries a series of professional-level tools, links up with iCloud, and allows users to share their images to Facebook, Flickr, or Twitter. Pixelmator allows for an easy transition between desktop Adobe programs and mobile editing (and also happens to be a lot of fun to toy around with for hours).

    Pixelmator is available for $4.99 for iPad in the App Store.

     

TIME apps

5 Killer Halloween iPhone Apps Actually Worth Downloading

These apps will get the whole family in the spooky holiday spirit

Halloween downloads have been a staple of Apple’s App Store ever since Angry Birds started flinging themselves at pumpkins instead of pigs. But the best Halloween apps were built from the grave — I mean, ground up — to scare, spook, and startle. These five apps can help the entire family get in the Halloween spirit, and are worth leaving on your iPhone or iPad even after all the trick-or-treat candy is gone.

  • Craftsy

    It’s the week before Halloween, which for most people means it’s time to panic and find a costume. Craftsy offers endless inspiration and hours of classes on how to design, stitch, sew, and knit together countless creative projects, including killer kiddie costumes. And while it might be too late to crochet this Batman costume — unless you’re some sort of yarn monster — “The Costume Box” sewing class is currently discounted, and busting with ideas for tick-or-treaters-to-be.

    Craftsy is available for free, with in-app purchases required, in the App Store.

  • FXNOW

    FXNOW FXNOW

    October is all about curling up in the dark and scaring yourself senseless with a good horror flick. Right now, there’s nothing spookier on television than FX’s American Horror Story. For four seasons, this anthology of terrifying tales has won awards and viewers alike. Missed out on it? Binge watching with the FX Now app is a great way to get your frightening fill. But if it packs too much bloodshed, the app also has a not-so-sinister alternative in every episode of The Simpsons ever aired — including all of the excellent “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween specials.

    FXNOW is available for free in the App Store, though a cable subscription is required to watch most of its on-demand episodes.

  • iPoe

    iPoe iPoe

    “It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night,” confesses Edgar Allen Poe’s main character in “A Tell-Tale Heart.” I wonder if the makers of iPoe, an interactive, illustrated book featuring some of the horror master’s most ghastly stories had the same hysteria. As gorgeous as it is spine-tingling, this app is an excellent way to brush up on some classic Halloween tales or enjoy the spooky stories for the first time. And with Apple’s new app bundles, you can now get volumes one and two of these Retina display-enhanced books, as well as a bonus app with 27 spooky wallpaper images pulled from the stories, for a barebones price.

    The iPoe Halloween Special Pack is available for $5.99 in the App Store.

  • Limbo

    Black and white and dead all over, this gorgeous side-scrolling puzzler has enough creepy and confounding elements to scare you senseless. With subtle, eerie music and skin-crawling sound effects, the audio alone is enough to make your pulse race while you guide a little boy through a dark world hell-bent on stopping him from rescuing his sister. It might not look like much in its screenshots, but turn out the lights, grab some friends and Airplay the game to an Apple TV, and you’ll discover how less can be gore.

    Limbo is available for $4.99 in the App Store.

  • Zombies iMake

    Zombies iMake Zombies iMake

    Zombies are people too — or were people, rather. Helping little ones to survive the scariest holiday, this iPad-only app aimed at six- to eight-year-olds lets children make their own monsters from a colorful collection of body parts, clothing and other hair-raising extras. Camera integration lets young mad scientists add friends’ and family members’ faces to their creations as well as customize the accessories. And with a sandbox style of play, the fun only stops when your kid’s imagination runs out.

    Zombies iMake is available for free in the App Store.

TIME apps

RiteAid and CVS Have Blocked Apple Pay Across All Their Stores

220,000 Stores Start Accepting Apple Pay
A worker demonstrates Apple Pay inside a mobile kiosk sponsored by Visa and Wells Fargo to demonstrate the new Apple Pay mobile payment system on October 20, 2014 in San Francisco City. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The move is reportedly part of an effort by a group of retail companies to develop their own mobile payments system

Apple’s attempt to revolutionize the way people pay for things hit a roadblock over the weekend, with pharmaceutical retail chains CVS and RiteAid disabling its mobile payment system Apple Pay across their stores.

RiteAid stopped accepting mobile payment systems that use near-field communication (NFC) earlier in the week. Tech website MacRumors then reported that CVS joined them on Saturday, when it reportedly sent an email to all its employees instructing them that customers would no longer be able to pay using software like Apple Pay and Android’s Google Wallet.

The move is apparently part of a project involving several large retail companies — including Wal-Mart and Best Buy — who are developing a mobile payment system of their own. The system, known as Merchant Customer Exchange or MCX, will use a different technology to that used by Apple Pay and Google Wallet, and its ultimate aim is to cut out credit card companies altogether, as Fortune reports.

Neither CVS nor RiteAid were named among the companies accepting Apple Pay when it was launched last month, but it had been functioning at both chains until they shut it down.

“This act by CVS and Rite Aid heralds the advent of the imminent battle in the mobile pay system,” NYU marketing and information technology professor Anindya Ghose told Bloomberg.

TIME

This 1 Extension Makes Google Chrome Even More Awesome

Inside The Google Chromebook Store
The logo of Google Inc. Chrome is displayed at a Currys and PC World 2 in 1 store, operated by Dixons Retail Plc, on Tottenham Court Road in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

One small tweak to Google Maps, one giant time-suck for mankind

The Google Maps team has just torpedoed the productivity of Chrome users with the launch of “Earth View,” a new browser extension that displays a random and beautiful satellite image of the earth’s surface each time the user opens a new tab.

It’s not exactly groundbreaking technology — in fact, it just a marries two existing technologies from Chrome and Google Earth. But the sheer variety of terrains on display, from the schematic street-view of downtown Chicago to a frozen mountain range in Antarctica, makes opening a new tab an oddly hypnotic experience and opening dozens of tabs nearly irresistible.

The app launched with little fanfare on October 14, rapidly climbing the ranks of most downloaded Chrome extensions with more than 50,000 users to date.

You can download the extension for yourself here.

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