Feature Story

Mobile Technology that Takes the Sting Out of the Fall

by Anne Field

A look at innovations that can help busy people handle the stepped-up pace of life.

Tis the season to be hassled. For most of us, the fall means a lot more than cooler weather and shorter days. It's also a time when the world speeds up. If you have school-age children, of course, you're back to the relentless task of juggling your various jobs: kids' homework and activities, along with the demands of your own work. But even if you don't have children, you can expect the pace of life to change, everything from heavier traffic jams during your morning commute, since everyone's back from vacation and all those school buses now are on the road, to more meetings.

But help is on the way. Just in the past year or so, there's been a spate of new or improved apps and other mobile technologies leveraging crowdsourcing and other innovations – technologies that can help you stay organized, handle your increased workload, and even avoid traffic. In other cases, there's been stepped-up demand for existing innovations. For example:

Hiring other people to do your chores. If you feel you have just too many time-consuming, soul sapping errands to do, why not hire a stranger to do the task for you? That's where so-called collaborative consumption apps, which make more efficient use of goods and services possible through shared activity, come in. David Bratvold, founder of Daily Crowdsource, points to TaskRabbit, as a prime example. With the recently updated TaskRabbit iPhone app, you can post a task you need to have done – say, picking up your dry cleaning or doing the grocery shopping – by typing a request or taking a picture of the task you want to have done for you, along with how much you're willing to pay for it. Then previously vetted " TaskRabbits" bid to do the task and are assigned the work. There's a pricing history feature which shows you the average prices paid for various tasks. Then you pay with a credit card; you can use your camera to take a picture of the card if you don't want to type in the numbers.

Recently, the company raised $17.8 million in funding and is using it to offer all sorts of new capabilities. For one thing, it's been expanding aggressively into new cities; it's now in nine and is planning to move into more. (If you live in London, expect to see the service soon.) But, also, it recently started offering an open API, or application programming interface, so it can be integrated with other services.

Creating really effective to do lists. In fact, recently there have been various improvements in technology and apps for making and managing your lists of all the things you need to do that day. Astrid, is a case in point. The personal assistant app lets you create to-do lists and then share them with other people.. But it recently integrated TaskRabbit' s API into its Android app, making it possible to convert items on your to-do list into TaskRabbit chores.

There also are some new or improved apps worth noting. Jim Valentine, vice president of mobile applications at Mobilewalla, points to Shoppers Friend, just-released in September, which allows you to create and manage lists which you can save under different categories and sync with your other devices. The recently updated VoCal will automatically remind you of whatever you need to be reminded of, delivered at a prescribed time; you enter the instructions by speaking instead of typing the information.

Navigating traffic. The last thing you need in your busy fall schedule is to get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. The solution: a new wave of crowdsourced apps relying on real-time reports from users. With Waze, for example, you get access to a community of fellow drivers who instantly provide information about traffic conditions—potholes, fender benders and the like. You get a turn-by-turn navigation route with optimal driving conditions that change as road congestion shifts. Recent updates also allow you to search for gas stations according to either price or location.

Keeping track of your children. Let's say you're going out of town on business. And let's say your teenage son has started hanging out with the wrong crowd. You can sign up for a cell phone plan that, according to Brent Iadarola, global research director of mobile and wireless communications at Frost & Sullivan, has recently become increasingly popular. It allows you to check up on exactly where your child is. You login from your laptop or cell phone while you're, say, waiting for your delayed flight and call up a map showing you your son's location. You also can set up parameters so that, should your child leave a previously designated area, you receive a text message alert.  "You can be sitting at your desk at work and still check in on where your children are," says Iadarola. 

Ultimately, that's the beauty of turning to mobile technologies to mitigate fall's hassles: In many cases, you don't even have to leave your office to use them.


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