If you own a smartphone, you own a bunch of apps. But do you own the right ones?

There are more than a million at your disposal in the Apple and Android app stores. With so many choices, finding that perfect calendar app can be as tricky as getting a high score on Flappy Bird. (Oops, that once-hot app has already come and gone.)

There’s a lot of trial and error: 20 percent of apps are used only once, according to Localytics, a Boston-based app analytics firm. Want a new game? An app to boost your productivity?

“Your best bet is to download the top five and try them all,” said Henry Cipolla of Localytics. “You never know what works for you vs. someone else.”

That tactic could explain why the Apple and Google Play stores boast tens of billions of app downloads. That’s right, billions. In this frenzy, each user is looking for something a little different — and going about it in a different way. What you put on your smartphone, like whatever is stuffed in your purse or wallet, says a lot about you.

We asked five smartphone users — from a WNBA superstar to a 15-year-old high school student — to give us a peek at their homescreens and share their tricks for finding the best apps.


Bio: 36, St. Paul, “Tech Evangelist” at the Nerdery.

Carries: iPhone 5s with nearly 100 apps.

Can’t live without: Evernote for staying organized, Waze for travel, Sleep Cycle for getting the best rest, One Password for keeping track of the digital keys, Sunrise for calendars and Simple for banking. “Mobile phones and apps really need to be about context,” he said. “If they can help us gain some cognitive superpower, all the better.”

Dislikes: “Two QR code readers I’ve maybe used once.”

Wishes he’d never downloaded: Angry Birds. “I lost probably 15 to 16 hours of my life. We all did.”

Last installed: The Marcus Theaters app.

Finds apps by: Recommendations rule. Absent personal suggestions, he turns to the Web to research. “If it’s something that’s going to save me time, I’m willing to buy two or three apps and just try them out. I’ll use it for a week and then try another one.”

But if an app costs more than $3, he digs deeper before buying. “I’ll look at the top 10 ‘Top 10’ lists and if I can find consensus, OK, I’ll spend the $5.99.”


Bio: 15, Minneapolis, junior at Washburn High School and youth staffer at Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities.

Carries: iPhone 3 with 13 carefully selected apps.

Can’t live without: Candy Crush for fun, TripGo for catching the bus, Gmail for staying in touch, Netflix for entertainment and Instagram for being photo social.

Dislikes: Any game installed by her little cousin.

Wishes she’d never downloaded: Candy Crush. “It’s really addicting. I deleted it for a couple months, but then I downloaded it because I missed it.”

Keep it organized: Apps go in folders on her homescreen. She’s been known to commandeer friends’ phones to clean them up, saying, “This is not OK. Why do you have all your apps everywhere?”

Last installed: Doodle Jump.

Finds apps by: Trial and error. Since she has an older model iPhone, she has to do extra hunting for compatible apps. She searches the app store and then tries them one-by-one. “I try to find which ones have the higher ratings. Then I try them out and delete them if they don’t work.”


Bio: 35, Lakeville, pediatric intensive care nurse and parenting blogger at ToysInTheDryer.com.

Carries: Samsung Galaxy S3 with 62 apps.

Can’t live without: MyFitnessPal for being healthy, Facebook for being social, Twitter for chatting, Instagram for sharing photos and Google Plus for being even more social.

Dislikes: Apps you have to pay for. “I’m just all about finding free stuff. I don’t want to pay for it and find I don’t like it, even if it’s only a dollar.”

Last installed: TimeHop, a digital time capsule app that reminds you what you posted on social media on that date in years past.

“I saw everyone’s TimeHop posts on Facebook and I thought it was cool. I absolutely love it. It’s fun to look back and see.”

Finds apps by: Scouring the Internet for lists, a la “the 20 best free apps for bloggers” or “free apps for toddlers.” Then she checks the app store ratings — at least three out of five stars is a must.

THE ARTIST: Guante (aka Kyle Tran Myhre)

Bio: 31, Minneapolis, two-time National Poetry Slam champion and activist.

Carries: iPhone 5 with about 20 apps.

Can’t live without: Google Maps for directions, Evernote for keeping his poems handy, Twitter for discussion, Facebook for being social and Songza for streaming music.

Dislikes: Calendars and organization apps. “I’m super, super organized, but I prefer to use a pen-and-paper calendar and a pen-and-paper to-do list. So many apps are supposed to be about making life easier. When I go through all those steps myself [and write it down] I think through it more thoroughly.”

Last installed: Marvel Unlimited, an app for accessing the Marvel comics catalog with a $10-per-month subscription. “It’s much, much more affordable than going out and buying comics.”

Finds apps by: Going to the app store when he wants something specific. “I don’t download stuff that I don’t know 100 percent I’m going to use.”

THE WORLD CHAMPION: Seimone Augustus

Bio: 30, Minneapolis, Minnesota Lynx guard and two-time WNBA Finals champion.

Carries: iPhone 5s with “2 ½ pages of apps.”

Can’t live without: Google Maps for getting around, Solitaire and other games for passing time, Urbanspoon for finding restaurants, Instagram for sharing photos and Twitter for staying in touch with family, friends and fans while she’s on the road.

Plays: A poker app — “I’m trying to learn how to play that” — and Angry Birds. “I burn a lot of my battery with those games.”

Wishes she’d never downloaded: A hard-to-use basketball game app. “Whenever I hit the ball [to shoot], it was delayed and I missed the shot. I deleted it.”

Last installed: An app for real estate listings. “I’m in the process of looking for a home. I downloaded it, but I have yet to use it.”

Finds apps by: “I kind of follow people on Twitter and somebody will say, ‘This is a nice app.’ ” Or she’ll check the most popular charts in the app store.

Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758