9 Ways To Spruce Up That Old iPhone
Plan on upgrading to the latest iPhone 4? Great, but what do you do with your old iPhone or iPod Touch that now looks old, useless, and outdated? You could sell it and earn back some of what you originally spent or give it to a friend or family member. But, instead of getting rid of the old to make way for the new, why not put your old iPhone or iPod Touch to better use?
The iPhone and iPod Touch, including the oldest models, are still both very capable devices. Their capacitive, multi-touch screens are still some of the best and most accurate in the industry. Their shapes are thin and lightweight and the iPod Touch in particular is almost astonishingly flat. The user interface is simple and intuitive, and chances are you’re pretty familiar with how it works. It would be a shame to simply toss out a perfectly functional device when there are so many cool things anyone can do with it.
We’ve compiled a list of nine great things you can do with that old hardware to put it to good use. In the following pages, we cover our favorite uses for these older devices. If you think of something we missed, let us know in the comments section below.
Personal WiFi Phone
VoIP, also known as Internet telephony, is a small but growing application for office dwellers today. Thanks to dropped calls, poor battery life, or other problems normally associated with cell phones, VoIP is becoming more and more popular, especially on smartphones like the iPhone. The most popular application for VoIP is Skype, which has recorded over 23 million simultaneous users online.
The problem with any VoIP program on the computer is that it requires a microphone and speakers or a headset. A microphone and speakers are generally discouraged because they can cause a feedback loop (that echoing and high-pitched squeal you hear when you put two cell phones on the same line close to each other). Most of us use headsets, but they’re usually wired, anchoring us to our workstations. Fiddling around with audio settings and tangled cables is the last thing anyone wants to do before making or receiving a call. And besides, if the phone call is more than five minutes long, you don’t want to be tethered by a wire the whole time.
However, with an extra iPhone or iPod Touch, you can install Skype or a number of different free VoIP apps, such as iCall Free VoIP or VoipMobile, and call out through your handheld. With the iPod Touch, users will need a headset because it has no microphone, but it’s still better than being glued to the chair. With the iPhone or Touch, now you can make VoIP calls while pacing the office, staying connected all the while through a local WiFi connection. This can also be done with your new iPhone 4, but why block your cell line and spend precious battery life when you don’t need to? The older i-device can do that for you!
The downside is that unlike standalone VoIP phones, the application must stay open to receive calls unless you pay for another phone number. For Skype, which allows for free online calls, the app must remain open but it won’t ring and will only vibrate. Still, prospective users can have Skype open on their computer and iPhone, which would ring on a PC and vibrate on a phone.
The other problem is that to remain connected to a WiFi connection constantly, the iPhone or iPod Touch must be plugged in and charging or set so it does not go to sleep. More proficient users can jailbreak their devices and use the application Insomnia, which will keep your iPhone connected to WiFi even when the phone is in standby mode. (See more on Jailbreaking on below.)
Secondary Storage Solution
Data storage is always a tricky thing. Flash drives are often too small for larger files and are too easy to lose, while full hard drives are too big to lug around everywhere. Sometimes, though, a lot of storage needs to be physically taken from one place to another and that requires more than what a simple flash drive can handle, but less than a bulky or expensive external hard drive. With a simple hardware addition, you can turn your old iPhone, iPod Touch, or even an older iPod Classic into a personal hard drive, while still retaining all of its normal functions.
The company Clickfree offers a little doohickey called the Transformer SE. This USB plug-in connects your iPod to your computer and will not only upload data for storage, it will also back up any folders and files and synchronize them every time you connect the iPod through the Transformer SE to your PC.
With the device, your older iPhone or iPod can easily work as a secondary backup storage for important documents, all the while remaining as a stable secondary media player.
As an added bonus, the Transformer SE can also transfer all the media on your iPod–which is normally organized under cryptic filenames in a hidden folder to make it harder to steal music–and put it back on your PC in an organized way. This makes any iPod a perfect storage device for not only your data, but for media as well.
The downside is that Clickfree’s Transformer SE costs $80 new, though we found deals for as low as $28 online through various retailers. The Transformer SE also works with all iPods, so iPod Classic owners can use the much more generous disk space even more efficiently.
Save as a Secondary, Expendable Phone
Ever gone on a trip where you knew things would get rough? Rock climbing, several days at the beach, or a safari through some African jungle? These, and many more places, may not be the best places to take your brand-new phone, especially if there is a distinct possibility that you’ll lose it. And chances are that if you go on such a trip, the main purpose of bringing your iPhone will be to use it as a phone and not as a do-everything device.
Having a backup is crucial, whether it’s because your phone broke on the way to work or because you won’t have access to a replacement for several days. But when it comes to phones, most of us are completely unprepared. Several Tom’s Guide staffers have found themselves sitting in a carrier’s local office for hours, waiting to replace their recently laundered, washed, dropped, stepped-on, driven-over, or smashed phones, as many of our readers have, only to hear that it would take a few days for a replacement.
Some of us don’t want to wait and are busy, have important work to do, or have data on the phone that needs to be recovered immediately. Thankfully, Apple’s own stores handle iPhone replacements very well, but relying on their 287 stores worldwide (221 nationwide, in 41 states) isn’t always enough. Some of us need a contingency plan now.
That’s a perfect reason to keep an old iPhone around. Not only can you sync everything your new iPhone has straight onto the older device thanks to iTunes backing up all your data, but your old SIM card can be reactivated within minutes with your own phone number. It’ll be like you never lost or broke your phone at all, except for it feeling a bit sluggish. That peace of mind is priceless. Keeping that old iPhone can save hours of frustration, days of work, and keep your life revolving around you–not your cell phone.
As our media centers grow in size and scale, so do our remotes. If you’re like us, remote controls and batteries clutter your media center, while turning the TV on with the speakers, cable box, and anything else means switching between any number of remotes.
While we can’t fix the clutter of thousands of useless channels, we can fix the clutter in your living room by buying a universal remote. Almost every year we test the latest and greatest Logitech Harmony universal remotes, any of which can fix the mess in today’s living rooms and entertainment centers. While Logitech does a phenomenal job, its universal remotes are also quite expensive and perhaps we can do a little better.
The iPhone, with its capacitive touch screen, makes for a perfect universal remote. It doesn’t need replacement batteries, it’s powerful enough to control any number of devices, and everyone knows how to use it. It thus comes as no surprise that a large number of companies have made hardware accessories for the iPhone to serve as a proper universal remote, ranging from $40-$70. All revolve around the same basic principle: pay a certain amount for the infrared iPhone’s 30-pin attachment, download the free app, and your phone is now ready to take over your media center. Several options include the Power A Universal Remote Case (iPhone 3GS and 3G only), the RE iPhone Universal Remote, and the L5 Universal Remote. Many options available work for both the iPhone and iPod Touch.
We also know that some of our more advanced users have a separate computer or media server connected to their TV, but controlling it with a wireless keyboard and mouse isn’t convenient. That’s why Logitech recently rolled out the TouchMouse app, which allows users to control any computer (with the proper software installed) through an iPhone or iPod Touch over a WiFi connection. TouchMouse even has a keyboard popup, so you can type away just like you would when writing a text message.
Home Theater Music Library
Whether it’s in the kitchen while you’re making a meal or during a house party, everyone wants to listen to music around the house. Many of us already use our iPhones or iPods for just that, but sometimes we need that device for something else, especially if it happens to be the phone you need to use. There’s nothing quite like a dedicated media player for the home, and an old iPhone or iPod works perfectly. Not only can you one-step sync all the music through iTunes, it plugs into any speaker system with an auxiliary jack and the battery will last hours, even after years of use.
For those looking for a little more than the music you own, there are plenty of streaming music services, such as Pandora and Last.FM. Both are free and feature limited commercials, and through WiFi, they will stream millions of tracks through your speakers for your listening pleasure.
Perhaps you even have bad radio reception and want to listen to your favorite radio station–there’s an option for that, too. Apps like AOL Radio, HiDef Radio Free, and others have access to hundreds of different local, national, and worldwide radio stations, both FM and AM. Sirius XM users can also download their free app and continue listening to satellite radio away from the car.
Speaking of the car, sometimes there isn’t anything on the radio and you want to listen to your own music. Sure, you can use your newer iPhone or iPod Touch, but why not keep a dedicated device in the car? Then you won’t have to worry about discharging your newer device or fidgeting it out of your pocket while going 70 mph on the freeway and the older one can keep on working for you.
The point here is simple: instead of relying on a radio, some sort of media storage box, or a household speaker system, all you really need is an old iPod, a speaker and WiFi for all your music and talk-radio needs.
Webcam and Nightstand Companion
Need a Webcam? We all do at one point or another, whether it’s to chat on Skype with friends or for an online business meeting. Of course, not all of us are packing laptops with built-in Webcams and spending $30-$100 on one that you’ll only use once in a blue moon just doesn’t seem worth it. Now, you can use your iPhone as a Webcam, thanks to iWebcamera.
iWebcamera is a $4.99 app with free drivers for your PC that works within minutes. The app isn’t perfect, but in the few weeks since its release, iWebcamera now works on a multitude of applications, including Skype, Youtube, and Yahoo! Messenger. It also only supports the camera and not a microphone, so you’ll need to work that out on your own. Still, it’s better than going out and buying a brand-new Webcam if you already have Bluetooth on your PC and an old iPhone.
One sad truth about our connected age is how reliant we’ve become on technology and constantly being connected. The benefits are huge, but how many of us now keep our phones beside us even at night, charging until its alarm wakes us up in the morning? How many of us check our emails with our phones instead of getting up and going about our business? Heck, you may be using your iPad or iPhone to read a book in bed before falling asleep instead of a paperback.
Then again, not all of us want to be totally connected. Those of us in the business world have all had our fair share of international calls in the middle of the night or friends partying a tad too late. If someone really needs to reach us, that’s what the house line is for to call past 10:00 PM. Instead of keeping your iPhone on the nightstand, use that older iPod Touch or iPhone. It’ll do everything you need, from book reader to alarm clock, all without the annoying ringing at two in the morning.
Portable Game Console
We’ve talked about portable game consoles in the past, but if there’s anything we’ve learned since last October, it’s that we’re more likely to play games on our iPhones rather than on Sony or Nintendo’s portable consoles. The simple fact is that wherever we go, we have our phones. The same doesn’t hold true for a dedicated game console.
Then again, using your phone as a game console is also problematic—we need our phones for making phone calls, not for playing games. Games are an excellent secondary function, but they rob our phones of battery life and generally interfere with work. Our kids also like to play on them and every parent knows how difficult it is to take the phone away. Not because of the guilt of taking a “toy” away, but because they won’t stay quiet enough for you to make the darned call.
Thankfully, iPhone games work across all versions of the iPhone and iPod Touch (except those that require a camera or microphone for the Touch), and any games you buy for your iPhone can be put on your older device free of charge. Some games may load and run a little slower on the first- or second-generation iPhone or iPod Touch, but compared to nothing, a dedicated portable game console with access to Apple’s App Store can be a lifesaver.
An added benefit of using an older iPhone/iPod Touch just for games is that it clears up space on your new phone for more current media. You won’t have to worry about keeping that game you don’t play anymore on your phone because it’ll always be on your older device instead.
For more adventurous users looking to play old-school console games, check the experiment page for more ways to make your old iPhone an even better portable game console.
Disclaimer: Everything on this page should be your very last resort for what to do with an old iPhone or iPod Touch. We do not recommend doing any of these experiments because they can damage or break your i-device, and they will void your warranty.
Open It Up
Ever wonder what’s inside that iPhone and what makes it tick? We have many times, but opening up an iPhone or iPod Touch looks difficult, but it is not impossible. If you have the engineering spirit and want to see the insides of an iPhone up close and personal and don’t care about possibly breaking it, then why not? Open it up and see what’s inside! There are certainly enough online guides to explore.
Put Android on It
Ever want to tryout Google’s Android phone operating system? While only currently at 4% market share, Android is also the fastest growing mobile platform and is right behind Apple in downloadable apps at over 50,000 available for download and purchase. It’s also completely open, compared to Apple’s App Store, which has some limitations.
Now, with an iPhone 2G or 3G, you can try out Android. It’s far from perfect because the OS was not made with the iPhone hardware in mind, but it does work. It will be slow and buggy and may even crash, but it’s also 100% free and available for anyone willing to try their luck. For iPhone 3GS or iPod Touch owners, versions specifically for your devices will be available soon. You can read about how to put Android on your iPhone 2G or 3G here.
Jailbreaking, or unlocking your phone’s software capabilities and opening it up to third-party developers, originally started before there was an app store available on the original iPhone. It has allowed users to run multiple apps simultaneously, synchronize through iTunes over the air, tether to any computer for free, and do many more things that you can’t find at the iPhone App Store.
Today, jailbreaking is easier than ever. Just download the Spirit tool and follow the simple instructions, and you’re good to go. Remember, while jailbreaking your iPhone shouldn’t cause any harm to your device, some applications in the various stores may cause crashes, bugs, or even break it entirely. Reports of such incidents are rare, but it is always a risk.
A jailbroken iPhone or iPod Touch has significantly more access to applications than the current App Store has, but if you’re going to jailbreak your iPhone, you’ll have to take that trip on your own. We don’t recommend jailbreaking your iPhone, and while there are clearly some benefits to it, there are other, better uses for your older hardware.
But don’t worry if you get lost. A quick Google search for good apps or help with what to do will get you wherever you need to go in this underground realm of iPhone software. Some of it is fine, some of it is illegal, and all of it will kill your warranty. That doesn’t mean you won’t have fun on the way, though.