Smart phones are here to stay. When I first began work out of college I joined the world of telecommunications. The penetration rate for cell phones at that time was less than 20%. That meant less than 20% of the people in the United States owned one cell phone on average. Today the penetration rate is well over 82%. And over 50% of all web traffic comes from mobile telephones.
Montana, though much rural than most states, has even taken to the tiny devices. Even in my role as an agricultural photographer, I see mobile telephones used every day. Farmers and ranchers both use them to do their jobs. Some even use them to "surf" the Internet while sitting in the seat of their tractors while precision-based farming and GPS steers the tractor for them. It is shocking how far technology has come even in my short life time.
To help those of you who are unfamiliar with all of the apps out there, I thought I would write a brief article with some suggestions for the best Montana smart phone apps. These are apps I consider indispensable as a Montanan as I travel across the state making photos of Montana. Some, of course, are more useful than others, but like all apps, you need to give them a whirl before you know whether or not they are keepers.
Just a note: These are all Android apps. I know many of you use iPhones and Apple tablets, so I'm confident there is an Apple alternative for just about every one of these apps, but you'll have to search for them using the app store on iTunes to see for yourself since Apple doesn't provide a nice lean link like Google does for Android apps.
So, without further ado, here is my list of the best smart phone (and tablet) apps a Montanan can have:
MDT Travel Info
Formerly called MDT Mobile, the MDT Travel Info app provides traveler information for those traveling across Montana, including instant on road conditions, construction projects, road incidents, still camera images, and weather information.
Montana State Parks Outdoors Guide
This nifty app provides state park enthusiasts a friendly way to enjoy the parks. It contains everything you need to plan a trip to any of Montana's state parks, navigate them once you get there, and share your experiences afterward.
The Billings Gazette is one of the state's best newspapers and it provides news from across the entire state and region. Billings Gazette app provides updated news, sports and more local information. The news alert feature is handy because it alerts you when there is breaking news.
This is another news app for Montana news junkies. Unlike the newspaper apps, it provides most of its news in a video format. It provides perpetually updated news, breaking news, local, state, and national sports coverage, local weather forecasts for the greater Great Falls region, and news and information about local and state politics.
NBC Montana News
This is another news app that is video oriented. Pulling information from all of Montana's NBC affiliates, the NBC Montana News app provides news, weather and sports in an instant. You can even watch live newscasts. You can also get up-to-the minute local and national news, weather and traffic conditions, and stay informed via notifications alerting you to breaking news and local events.
Have you ever wandered through Montana's forests or plains and seen a wildflower and wondered what it was? Well, if so, this app is for you. This app helps find and identify plants, and when you give the app information about a plant, such as its location, flower color, and the time of year you saw the flower, the app will quickly show you which plants match your selections.
Are you a fan of the Montana Grizzlies, then this is a must-have on your smart phone. It provides breaking news, stats, video-on-demand, and live video stream. It also provides photo galleries, pre-game previews of the match-ups and recaps after the big game.
Montana State Bobcats
If you are a fan of the Montana State Bobcats, then this is the app for you. Like the Montana Grizzlies app, it also provides breaking news, stats, video-on-demand, and live video stream. It also provides photo galleries, pre-game previews of the match-ups and recaps after the big game.
Great Falls Tribune
This app comes from another one of Montana's finest daily newspapers...the Great Falls Tribune. With this app you will always have the latest and greatest access to news from Great Falls and central Montana. The app also provides national news stories, and you can even add news stories happening right in your own communities.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle
This is another fine Montana newspaper, but unlike the rest, it focuses its news on the Gallatin Valley and the communities near Bozeman and Livingston. The app provides local news and information from there, including sports, entertainment, and opinions. It also has a classifieds section, local weather, and obituaries. And like many of the news apps, you can share news stories via Facebook and Twitter.
Visit Great Falls
Wondering what to do if you are visiting Great Falls this weekend? Well this is the app to have. While many might think it is suited for those traveling a great distance through Great Falls, it is is valuable if you live there also, The calendar of events ensures you will never miss an important event in central Montana's largest city.
Do you like to go fishing in Montana? And who doesn't. This app works even when you don't have access to the Internet. It provides information about the best fishing holes, information about water flow data from the USGS office, maps, and regulations. This app is indispensable if you do any fishing at all in Montana.
National Park Service - Yellowstone National Park
Everyone loves visiting Yellowstone National Park. But this app, developed by the National Park Service, makes visiting Yellowstone easier than every before. It offers great information about the campgrounds, roads through the parks, sights, and things to do. There's plenty here for even the most experienced Yellowstone visitor in the crowd.
Glacier National Park
The National Park Service doesn't have an app for Glacier National Park like it does for Yellowstone National Park (shame on you, National Park Service), but there is a nice independently produced app out there that provides great information for the first time Glacier National Park visitor OR the person who visits its several times a year. Check it out.
REI National Park Guide & Maps
REI, the American retail and outdoor recreation services company, has an app that does things that the National Park Service and private apps done. This nifty app has detailed maps and guides for people visiting either Yellowstone National Park or Glacier National Park, especially if you are a hiker.
Billings Clinic ExpressCare
Billings Clinic is the largest healthcare provider in Montana, so it stands to reason a majority of us will visit one of the many clinics and medical centers at some point in our lifetime. The Billings Clinic ExpressCare app is a great tool for those who do visit one of their facilities for health care.
Stockman Bank is another Montana institution, with more branches in more city than any other bank. You aren't a true Montanan unless you have a bank account with Stockman Bank. And if you do, this app makes accessing your money easy. It even allows you to make mobile deposits without having to find a deposit box or ATM.
It's no secret that rodeo is Montana's favorite sport. And any rodeo fan who visits more than one rodeo a year owes it to themselves to have this app on their telephone or tablet.
Montana Guide by Triposo
This is a privately produced app that gathers together the best travel information for all of Montana in one place.
Weather is always fickle in Montana, so if you are visiting the state you need to have a great weather app, and Weather Underground's weather app is the best in my humble opinion.
Montana is huge and because of that it has many radio stations. There's no better way to tune into local information than to listen to local radio stations via this app, TuneIn.
So you can see, there are a lot of great smart phone apps out there for Montanans and visitors to Montana to enjoy. Unfortunately, the state of Montana's Office of Tourism doesn't have one. I'm not sure why. Wouldn't it be great to have an app that notifies us when we're driving near a historical marker or asks us if we would like to make dinner reservations when dinner approaches? I think so. I hope the Office of Tourism does something about this. Soon.