(originally written for the Green Loves Gold blog)
The iPhone is the Swiss Army Knife of smart phones, able to tackle a wide variety of tasks that are generally divvied out to many separate devices. Consider investing in an iPhone (or similar gadget), as consolidating these products into one small phone significantly reduces an individual’s carbon footprint and allows for a quick simplification of one’s life.
Though it won’t win any awards for its 1.3 megapixel processor, the iPhone’s camera actually takes nicely saturated and surprisingly high-quality photos for a mobile phone camera. The iPhone’s camera really shines, though, when used in conjunction with note-taking apps like Evernote, GPS-tracking apps like Earthscape, and the handy, built-in ability to snap a photo and immediately use it as your phone’s wallpaper, email it to a friend, or use it as a contact’s mugshot in your address book.
It’s said that timing is everything, which is why the pervasiveness of clocks and watches in the modern world is not surprising. The iPhone’s built-in Clock app fulfills all of an individual’s timing needs with an integrated World Clock, wide array of Alarm options, Stopwatch capabilities, and a general Timer function. One can become even more of a minimalistic time-guru with time-tracking apps like TSheets and time-management apps like iProcrastinate Mobile.
The calendar is a beacon of productivity, neatly slicing up the hours and days and months into manageable chunks of productivity. Google Calendar, voted Lifehacker’s best calendar application, stands out among the thronging masses of digital date boxes, with its effortless integration with email, directions, Google searches and every other calendar application out there. It’s no surprise, then, that Google Calendar has an elegant and simple iPhone version that one can access via http://calendar.google.com.
No doubt about it, these are the days of the mobile phone. In the United States today, one can generally gauge the relative age of someone by whether or not they still have a landline (though more and more even Baby Boomers are catching on and ditching the wired lifestyle). The iPhone is, among other things, a superb phone, especially since the 3G upgrade (which fixed many technical issues the original model had with its antenna). When in used conjunction with the forthcoming Google Voice and VoIP services like Skype, the iPhone becomes even more versatile and cheap than the most impressive networked-office-phone setup.
There are some who would say Apple shot themselves in the foot by making the iPhone the best available iPod in addition to everything else it does because they are cannibalizing their own iPod sales as a tradeoff. Regardless of the economic ramifications for Steve Jobs, however, the basic iPod functionality of of the iPhone is impressive, allowing a user to bring a sizable music library with them anywhere they go, with super-intuitive navigation to boot.
The iPhone’s screen is jam-packed with pixels (480 by 320 with a resolution of 163 pixels per inch, and though this isn’t the highest in the portable media device field, most analysts agree that the iPhone makes far better use of the pixels it has by achieving accurate color reproduction and high quality black levels in its screen). This in mind, the iPhone makes a great replacement for that portable DVD player you take with you on the plane or for that daily subway-jaunt to the office. Further, by connecting the iPhone to your TV with a Composite AV Cable, suddenly all of your movies, slideshows and music become available for the whole room to share. If you don’t have any movies downloaded or ripped to your phone, there’s a quick and easy link to YouTube right on the iPhone dock, waiting to help you make your lunch break a little less tedious.
The iPhone’s Contacts section is second-to-none, allowing a user to input scads of information about their contacts, from phone numbers and address to URLs, notes and photos. Additionally, Contacts syncs up easily with OS X’s Address Book software, Yahoo! and Google’s address book, and Outlook/Entourage saved Contact lists. One step closer to a paper-free office.
In addition to its built-in Weather app, the iPhone app store boasts an impressive 25 specialized weather programs so that no matter where you are, you’ve got the latest information on that massive storm that’s about to come inland (or which days are best for that beachside picnic).
There aren’t many people who carry calculators around with them on a regular basis (though props to those of you with the stamina), but for those who are looking to remove one less piece of electronics from their lives, the iPhone’s Calculator app fulfills that need and more. When upright, you’ve got your basic K-high school calculator. Turn it on its side, however, and suddenly you’ve got a super-detailed scientific calculator, ready and willing to fling functions and crunch cosines without breaking a sweat. Highly-ranked Grafly is available for those who want to build complex, 3D graph of arbitrary equations; there’s even a handy(?) Spacetime Converter app for those that want to take the theory of mathematics in a different direction.
There was a time when finding directions meant looking at a map or asking a friendly soul at a small gas station exactly which turn to make. Those days are past. Cast the maps aside and throw away the GPS in your car (that you’re paying a monthly fee for) and instead start using the Maps app on the iPhone. This program has Google Maps built in, so you can easily search for a location, bring it up on the map and produce step-by-step directions to your ending destination. What’s more, if you don’t know where you are, finding your exact location is as easy as tapping a button, which will show your location on the map; another tap will show you how to get to anywhere else in the world. As an added bonus, Google Earth is integrated into the Maps app, so if you’re curious as to what the top of the building you just drove by looks like, you’re in luck.
Though it contains a built-in Notepad app, the Evernote program for the iPhone has to be one of the singularly most useful things ever coded. You can jot down notes, record voice messages, shoot a photo and tag it for later and automatically sync it up with your (free) account online, making those notes available to you anywhere in the world, regardless of how you access the Internet. It works the opposite way too: download the Evernote program for your computer (also free) or add the Evernote button to your Firefox toolbar and anything you snag while surfing will be ready and waiting in your eager hands to be called upon at will. No more notes on paper, no more waste.
A popular paper-conservation tip: switch to paper-free banking and receive your bank notices via email, saving lots of trees in the process. A popular iPhone banking tip: if you are with Bank of America, download the free BofA Mobile Banking app. This piece of software allows you to do all your banking online, on your phone, anywhere, anytime. What could be more convenient? Well, maybe if more banks were doing the same!
Portable Flash Drive
Making use of apps like Air Sharing and iPhoneDrive, your iPhone becomes a larger-than-usual thumb drive, allowing you to carry around your work files, that script you’ve been working on in your free time, the secret documents from your OTHER work, and anything else you want to keep handy. Thumb drives aren’t very big, but having one built into your phone is one less thing to carry, further simplifying your lifestyle.
How many quarts in an ounce? Does a millimeter measure volume? Is that level? Where’s the lightswitch? Answer these questions and more with a combination of apps available for the iPhone, including Converter, Flashlight, RulerPhone and BubbleLevel. It’s like a toolkit in your phone (though I wouldn’t recommend trying to use it as a hammer).
The iPhone can be used as a universal remote control for almost any piece of modern electronic equipment. Open source projects like ngRC allow you to use your iPhone to control your Microsoft Windows XP or Vista Media Centers. The Intelliremote client for the iPhone also allows you to control Windows machines, though it works with a wider array of programs, like Winamp, iTunes and VLC. For the Mac purists out there, the standard Remote application released by Apple grants your iPhone control over iTunes on any computer on the same network. Great for parties. Freaky to the Amish.
Step aside XM, there’s a new (music) sheriff in town. Its name is iPhone, and it has dozens of music-listening options, ranging from Last.FM to Pandora and FlyCast, all which use different techniques to recommend music based on your particular taste. Oh and it’s free. It’s all free.
The iPhone has a smaller screen than e-book-specific hardware like the Kindle, but it also has some well-designed apps that make the reading experience just as enjoyable. The humble Stanza allows users to elegantly organize their e-book collection, and even to upload their own e-books in PDF form. Fictionwise, Inc’s eReader has less functionality, but a shorter learning curve as well, making it a good choice for your grandmother or near-sighted uncle to use on their iPhones.
Cancel your magazine subscriptions! Save that paper for napkins, because with an iPhone in hand, you have access to the Zinio Mobile Newsstand, which proudly displays its top-selling titles in their entirety free for iPhone users. Texterity is also participating in the free periodical push, making over 50 consumer and business magazines available for iPhone users through their interface.
Reading the New York Times on an iPhone is a snap with the NYTimes app. Streaming the most up-to-date news is just a button-tap away. Check out the Australian News and Russian News apps as well, for a taste of what they’re reading overseas. Ever without apps, more and more local newspapers are optimizing their websites for iPhone viewing. Those who don’t are generally still legible, too, so the Backwoods Technology Hater Gazette might even be available for online consumption with the iPhone.
What gadgets do you use to replace a handful of other gadgets? Let me know below!
Update: April 22, 2016
I want to make that clear, because it kind of puts the above post in perspective.
Can we talk about the 1.3 megapixel camera? Or the 480×320 resolution? And that it’s a lovely replacement for your portable DVD player! I’m pretty sure this must have been pre-App Store, as well, based on the number of links to independent develop sites for those apps.
But moving past the geek-worthy time capsule that this post turned out to be, I want to note that this marks a moment that I’ve returned to several times over the years in which I flurried between bigger-picture philosophical musings and highly practical how-to style posts. I ended up refocusing on the former eventually, and I tend to relegate the latter elsewhere, but you’ll see a lot of this, particularly early on, before I knew exactly what I wanted this blog to be.