Tech Tools That Connect Families
When you can’t be together in person, these apps will help you to stay in touch with your kids, spouse, relatives, and even pets.
On-the-go doesn’t have to mean out-of-touch. New apps and websites are launching all the time, and many of them are designed to keep you connected with loved ones. Here are six to check out.
To keep track of multiple schedules in a busy family, refrigerator Post-it notes will no longer do. This app creates a shareable calendar—for mobile devices and computers—that can also send agenda e-mails and individual appointment reminders for the upcoming week. You can even use it to create meal plans, letting everyone know what’s for dinner and, most important, what time to be there. Free; iDevices, Android, BlackBerry, Nook
If your Facebook friend network has become too big and unwieldy, downsize to this app and start over. It’s similar in design and function to Facebook’s Timeline, but by limiting access to family members or very close friends, you’ll enjoy newfound social-networking freedom and privacy as you chart your path through daily life and follow others’ journeys. Free; iDevices, Android.
Looking for an app just for two? Couple lets you create a digital scrapbook of moments and memories, schedule dates (and anniversary reminder notifications), share to-do lists and travel wishes, send sketches to each other, and even “thumbkiss.” Thumbkiss? Yep, each person places his or her thumb on the smartphone screen so that, once the fingerprints are aligned, both screens glow red while the phone vibrates. Free; iDevices, Android
Pets are members of the family too, and now it’s possible to stay connected with them when you’re at work or on vacation. When coupled with a home Wi-Fi network, webcam(s), and the necessary software, this app allows you to watch and listen to your pet from a mobile device. It can even send text messages to you when motion is detected (i.e., Sparky is gutting the sofa). Bonus: If your pet isn’t much of a watchdog, the system can catch burglars as well. $4.99 (app only); iDevices, Android
No list of family social-networking tools would be complete without this venerable app, which circumvents hefty long-distance charges and allows you to video-chat with faraway loved ones over the Internet for free or a nominal charge. The only catch is that the person you’re calling must also have Skype installed (although, unlike FaceTime, you both don’t need to be on Apple devices). Free; tons of devices
With this website or mobile app, you can coordinate caregiving among a community or family—to help a loved one who has a medical condition or a new baby, for example. Schedule and sign up for tasks like providing meals, offering rides to medical appointments, and making visits. Message boards allow users to share “thinking about you” notes and more. You can even include an option that allows people to donate money toward health care and other expenses. Free; iDevices