15 Things You Didn't Know Your Smartphone Could Do

What do you usually do on your smartphone? You probably check your messages, watch videos, browse the web, and use a range of relatively common apps. Yet with access to the web, a variety of inputs and outputs, and the ability to connect to a wide range of electronics, there is so much more they can do as well.

Note that while most smartphones have the same basic functionality, there are some things that certain models can do uniquely. They might become commonplace features or be forgotten in the future, with only time to give us the answer. Features might also work differently on different models, so take note that any instructions we give will be more general than specific.

With all of this in mind, here are 15 interesting things most people don’t know their smartphone can do:

1. Be More Accessible

Sure, you keep your phone in reach of you at nearly all times, so that type of accessibility isn’t an issue. Yet here we are talking about making it more accessible to those with disabilities. Whatever your need, smartphone developers have considered it and have implemented a solution that hopefully helps.

Some common accessibility features include:

Audio Aids

  • For people who might find typing difficult or for people who are hard of hearing, there is a live transcribe option on some phones. It effectively captions life and is regularly improving over time. It uses your microphone and provides a text box on your screen. It can also provide captions for common sounds. You can enable it in your settings on some phones, and while it isn’t perfect, it is a vast improvement over nothing.
  • On a related note, some phones have sound recognition features that can keep an ear out for things such as a baby crying or a dog barking.
  • Most streaming media has captions these days, but streaming media doesn’t cover everything played on a phone. Modern phones have live captioning features that provide text for any audio or speech that is playing on your phone. This can come in handy when you are using social media, want to know what a podcast is about, and more.
  • Modern iPhones can use LED flashing to alert users to an incoming call instead of a standard ringing if such sounds are inaudible to you (or you just don’t want to hear a ring). The setting can be found under accessibility in the settings menu.
  • For people with hearing loss in one ear, mono audio is available. You can adjust the channels as you’d like as well.

Visual Aids

  • It is easy to adjust the size of the text on the screen for both Android phones and iPhones. In the settings look for “display and text size” and adjust as you need to. Modern phones can also likely adjust the color contrast between the text and the screen, and adjust the text to make it bolder and easier to read. It might make some sites or pages look a little odd, but they will be much more readable.
  • You likely zoom in on your phone already regularly, but there are settings to make it easier under the accessibility options in your phone.
  • To work with them easily, you may want to learn the gestures or touch settings by heart. You should be able to easily find out this information for your model of smartphone.
  • Talkbalk (Android) and VoiceOver (iPhone) features allow you to have your phone read aloud the text on the screen in case you can’t read it (or just don’t want to). There are gestures to learn here to activate them, but this can be easily looked up for your phone and they are handy to keep in mind.
  • Similar features also can allow your phone to describe pictures and other images in basic terms, though the accuracy is still being worked on. In the coming years, however, we are optimistic as to the process of this technology.
  • Color blindness features exist on both Android phones and iPhones and can filter colors or switch your phone to greyscale as needed. Some people with smartphone addiction issues but no visual problems switch their phones to greyscale to make them less appealing and more for practical use.

Tactile/Motor Function Aids

  • Touch Screen Sensitivity Adjustments are possible on most modern phones. At the very least you will be able to adjust how long it takes a touch to register on a phone, which can help people who might have problems making fine motor movements on their phone. Whether you want a longer or shorter time, there should be something that works for you. If you have an issue with tremors, you can make it so that multiple touches are treated as a single one.
  • Camera Switches are a truly interesting development, and it allows someone to input more complex commands using the camera. For example, by smiling to a certain degree in front of your phone you can open a specific app. There is lots of customization within these settings and it might take some time to get the hang of, but for those with motor function issues, it can be a huge relief to have.
  • Given how accurate things are currently, how much phone cameras are improving, and more, it might soon be possible to effectively transcribe sign language using a phone camera and the right software.
  • Dictation has long been available on phones for those who would have issues typing or those who simply do not want to. With a simple voice command, it can be activated, and there is often a button to activate the microphone for dictation on many virtual keyboards. The specifics can vary by phone, but it is effectively a universal feature. The technology has improved vastly since its inception and is effective for anyone with a clear speaking voice.

As you can tell, smartphone developers have put a lot of work into making sure everyone can use their products, whatever their problems might be. People without disabilities can also benefit from many of these features, whether they just want to give their eyes or ears a break or whether they’re looking to try out something new. For people with other disabilities, there are other apps, peripherals, and more that can help. We, unfortunately, cannot go into every possible solution and setup, but we do encourage you to do more research and seek additional help if you need it.

2. Start and Diagnose Your Car

The Internet of Things (IoT) has expanded to practically every appliance or device you can think of, and your car is no exception. Cars are heavily electronic these days, as one can tell if they have spent time inside a newer model. With Bluetooth connections and WiFi (among other wireless technologies), cars can be remotely started and much more. It has led to some cybersecurity concerns, but as of yet, we have not seen widespread problems with the technology.

You might have a remote starter with your car keys, but you might also be able to use an app for the same purpose, which is handy if you have your phone in hand anyhow. With some apps, you might be able to do things such as get the heat or AC going in your car (which is amazing for some climates), start other features, and more. You might not be able to drive the car with your phone (and hopefully you wouldn’t want to), but there is a lot of conveniences to be had.

And if your car is being anything but convenient and showing a “check engine” light or something similar, then you may want to get an app that can help you diagnose the problem. Some apps, with the right peripherals, effectively turn your car into a code reader that you can plug into the proper port and check the problem. It might not fix your car by itself, but it can put you on the right track, and tell you whether you need help or can deal with it yourself.

3. Help You Sleep Better

Many experts say that it is best to avoid using your smartphone before bed or taking it to bed, and we think there is a strong argument for this. The blue light from your screen can trick your brain into thinking it is still daylight out, making you feel more alert when you should and messing with your sleep schedule. No matter how awake you feel at midnight, you might still have to be up by six, and taking an extra hour to get to sleep is not good. Therefore, putting your phone away, or at least turning the screen off is a good idea.

If you need your phone on you, then there are still settings to help. Most phones have a “night mode” or “blue light filter” that you can use, and you might be able to schedule these to activate automatically at a certain time. And if it's not directly on your phone, certain apps will do it. Even a simple reminder that you should put your phone away and wind down for bed can work wonders.

And now that we’ve gotten mitigation out of the way, you should know there are also apps designed to help you calm down at night and rest easier. If you even want some basic soothing sounds or white noise to drown out the creaks and bumps of your home, they can be easily found and played on your smartphone. Meditation apps often have sleep programs (or vice versa, depending on how you look at it). Your phone, with the help of some smartwatches, can keep track of how well you are sleeping at night.

So the next time you think about your smartphone keeping you up, take the initiative and make it work in your favor instead.

4. Create Custom Vibration Alerts

Some messages and notifications are more important than others, but you still can’t have the sound on all the time. Sometimes you want the differences to be a bit more subtle. The good news is that with many phones you can adjust the notifications to vibrate more or less depending on your preference. A text from your spouse? Make it a stronger pulse. One of the many notifications you get from Facebook each day? You can leave that at a blip or silent. Customize it and adjust it to your heart's content, by app, and more. 

Potential uses of this are up to you, but we know you can be creative with it. Given the number of apps some people have on their phones and the number of notifications active users get each day, we know many are going to need it. It’s also a great time to turn off notifications for apps you know you no longer use, or simply delete some. Do an app audit today!

5. Split the Screen

People who use a desktop computer know the beauty of having two or more screens to work with. Having one screen open for notes and another for writing can be great. Similarly, having one screen on a video call while another is on a movie you’re watching with the person can make for a great evening. Even having multiple screens devoted to spreadsheets makes work a lot easier for people. And while a large enough screen mitigates the need, not everyone has that opportunity.

Yet how can these benefits translate to smartphones? By handling most of the same tasks (a smartphone can do most of the things a computer can, after all) and having two apps open right next to each other on the screen. With most smartphones in use today, you can split the screen between two apps whether you want to split your attention, compare a few different sets of notes, or something else entirely. 

To split the screen on your smartphone, you may need to back out to a “greater view” of the tabs or apps you have open. Note that it might not be wise to have multiple highly intensive apps open at once (smartphones have their limits after all) and there will be differences in how to get the setup just right from phone to phone.

6. Get Emergency Broadcast Alerts

You might have gotten emergency alerts on your phone before, especially if you’ve had it a while. Perhaps it was for something like a tornado alert, an incoming hurricane, or notifications about a recent earthquake. In any case, you’re likely to remember some occasion where your phone tried very hard to get your attention, whether you asked for it or not.

With your phone, you can make sure you get these alerts, and you can turn some types of alerts off. You might be able to check to see if there are other alerts you can sign up for through different apps. It is also interesting to research how emergency broadcast alerts are made and sent to phones and other devices across the country. After all, many people no longer bother with a TV (or at least hook it up to cable), and fewer people still listen to the radio with any regularity. In the age of streaming, why bother with live updates and programming?

You will want to be careful about all of this, of course. The last thing you want is to disable an alert that could save your life, especially if you live in a hazardous area. Double-check your settings before you leave the tab, even if you think it will go off by default. In fact, take now as a great opportunity to check related settings now, to make sure everything is in order. Just don’t go overboard and give yourself anxiety about things that are unlikely to happen. There is a balance to be struck with this.

7. Act as a Scientific Calculator

Sometimes you need a calculator with a little more heft. And a scientific calculator is usually what you need. Whether you need it for work or the most complex bar math of your life, it will be able to handle whatever calculations you need, so long as you give it the right instructions. 

And you’ve certainly seen the calculator app on your phone, but have you experimented much with it? A quick tab when shopping might be your limit with it. But if you turn your phone on its side while you are using it, it gains some more functions. There also might be a button on your app that switches it to a scientific calculator. A quick look now will show you everything you need to. Don’t worry, we’ll still be here while you look.

Alternatively, if the default calculator app on your phone isn’t enough, there are plenty of more advanced scientific calculator apps available on your app store of choice. Some will be free (perhaps with ads) and others will have a small one-time charge, but for people who work in certain fields and industries, being able to avoid carrying around a separate device will be a huge convenience. 

8. Scan Documents

Having a scanner on-hand is not always easy, and even the more portable scanners require bag space you might not have or want to use on such a device. Yet the good news is that you have something that works as a scanner nearby right you (it’s your smartphone). It’s more than just taking a picture with your phone (which might work in some cases, but not be good enough for others). It goes into more detail and gets every last detail out of a document.

Depending on your app and preferences, you should be able to “scan” a document into several different formats, and with the right tools, you can edit and write on it like any other document. This makes contracts across the country easy to deal with so long as preparations are made, and makes many different transactions so much easier. You’ll need to be working with someone who is also on board, but this is becoming more common, especially when haste is needed or helpful.

9. Create a Panorama

You might use this to showcase a new room or home when one photo won’t do? Perhaps you have a large get-together, and you want to make sure that you can get everyone in the picture. While a normal photo just won’t cut it, you can create a panorama shot and not worry about a thing.

Depending on the settings for your camera, you might need to take multiple pictures and have the software stitch them together. You may also need to hold the phone steady and pan it back and forth over the intended panorama shot.

As one last note, sometimes a panorama shot isn’t necessary or best depending on your phone. Some newer models have a dedicated ultra-wide shot lens perfect for those types of photos, and great for detail.

10. Pay for Far More Things Than You Thought

Phones are great for eCommerce, and eCommerce is huge, but what about paying for real-world items using your phone? What about something like groceries or your regular fill-up at the gas pump? Wouldn’t it be nice at times to not have to worry about taking out a credit card or getting out the right amount of cash?

Well with your smartphone you can likely do so, at least with quite a few modern phones. Apple Pay has a large following and adoption rate, and Samsung and other phone manufacturers also have their own options. All you might need to do is tap your phone to a device instead of worrying about someone else handling your credit card or dealing with cash. And once you set it up and get used to it, you won’t want to go back, especially at your favorite locations. 

The adoption rate of such technology varies depending on your location, but major chains are regularly using it, and it will become more common in the coming years as more and more phones adopt the technology. Some places are even accepting payment in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and while you might not want to have all your holdings in it and hope to go grocery shopping, it is an interesting development that’s worth following. The financial and economic worlds are unpredictable, and smartphones might provide us with some extra insurance.

And of course, you can buy practically anything from your smartphone, given its access to the internet and its endless selection of products and services. Just keep in mind the information you put in, where you shop, and how to be safe.

11. Get Warnings About Speed Traps, Cameras, and More

You already know that you can get traffic warnings, notes about accidents, and more on your smartphone, likely through Google Maps or your GPS app of choice. Yet some apps notate where there might be a speed trap (there are preferred locations), traffic or speeding cameras, and similar things. 

While we don’t encourage you to use such an app to get around the law or speed through your streets without worry (you won’t get away with it for long), it is a curious look into the infrastructure and can help you stay aware of what you are doing while you drive. It can also tell you where you need to be extra careful, and explain why you see people pulled over at the same places time and time again.

12. Use It as a Remote

Now that we have smart TVs, you can easily control your television through a WiFi connection as you would a remote. And your way of doing that? Your smartphone, likely with an app. Your preference of which device you want is up to you, but being able to put the remote away in place of your phone can reduce the amount of clutter you have to deal with. You might also be able to access the features of your TV more easily.

To do so, first, check the manual for your television to see if there’s an app available. If you lost the manual, you can likely find a copy online. If you are still uncertain, you can likely search online to get to it. It might take a little scrolling and finding an obscure page, but most manufacturers keep it somewhere to help people like you.

And it is not just your TV or your entertainment system it can be a remote for. With smart home technology, there is a strong chance you can use it as a remote for any IoT device in your home. Happen to have a smart toaster? Get your toast ready in part by using your phone. You might be able to do things such as adjust heating, your shades, and more using phone apps. With a solid network and a little effort now, you can make things much more convenient in the long run.

13. Limit Yourself from Making Poor Choices

Not every decision we make is the wisest one, and we don’t always have a guiding voice or small cricket to remind us of what we may want to hold back on. Fortunately, we can make our smartphones into that voice sometimes so that we can live more in accordance with our goals and values. Sure, smartphones sometimes provide us with impulses, but with the right apps and habits, we can turn them into a force for good in our lives. Some ways it can help include:

  • And if drinking and driving is a concern, you can invest in an app and a peripheral that can determine your blood alcohol level, much like a breathalyzer test. Having it on hand (even if you just stash the peripheral in the car) can help prevent you or a loved one from making a life-destroying decision. It’s a small investment, but a worthwhile one for anyone who likes a night out.
  • Even your phone usage itself can be limited with the right app. Some people suffer from social media or smartphone addiction, and locking oneself out (at least out of some apps) is a method of self-control. It is a more extreme measure, but it might be necessary for some people.
  • On the lighter side of things, a smartphone can help you keep track of your diet and exercise habits, making sure you stay on top of your goals and that you stick with your new year’s resolution (at least for a while). With apps ranging from a gentle reminder to those that make you pay if you don’t confirm you’re keeping up, your phone can help you live your best, healthiest life. You likely know that a smartphone can track a lot, but it's how you implement these options that counts the most.

14. Keep Track of Your Kids

With GPS in every phone, tracking a phone is an easy feat for someone who has the right access. If your phone can pinpoint your location while you’re driving or even walking, then you can do the same with someone else. And there are plenty of apps that allow you to do this with your children. Simply install the app on your child’s phone and check on it using the web or an app of your own easily.

Other apps allow you to keep track of what your child does on their smartphone, from the apps they use, who they text, and how long they spend on it (some parental controls can also limit smartphone time if you are concerned about overuse).

Now how much you want to do this will be up to you, and you should be upfront with your children on how you use it. In truth, the practice is in an ongoing debate. How would you want to be tracked when you were a kid? How should you balance those feelings and concerns with those of their safety?

There are multiple apps, settings, and options to keep track of where a phone is and thus where your child is, and which one you use should be up to you. Some are more invasive than others, and some provide more control than others. As mentioned, finding the right balance is key, lest your child quickly finds a way around your protection or lose some trust in you.

15. Act as a Tape Measure

Using augmented reality, your phone can act as a tape measure. It might seem like the simplest thing, but when you’re on the go it can come in handy, and tape measures are known by many to be temperamental. Have you ever had one snap back at you when you didn’t want it to, or even get “bitten” by one? Your phone isn’t likely to do the same.

And whether you need inches, centimeters, yards, or something else, the digital tape measure on your phone will be able to handle it. Conversions will be easy as well with most apps (or are just an app away), and 

With proper usage, your phone can be just as accurate as any physical tape measure. Furthermore, at long distances, a tape measure can get difficult to use, bend too much, or otherwise cause problems. With a smartphone, you do not have to worry about these physical concerns. 

On the Increasing Versatility of Smartphones

Of course, there is plenty of room for smartphones to grow. We will most certainly see an improvement in the features that we are used to, such as processing power and the camera. However, it’s quite possible that we may see innovations occur that open up entirely new possibilities for smartphones. We might get smartphones that have vastly improved receivers that allow for better WiFi connections. We also have 5G right around the corner in many places (and already out in others), allowing for faster download speeds that might make some apps and functions feasible for the average person.

We are also already seeing smartphones become more like tablets and computers. The “phablet” is a common smartphone type these days, and what was once done by computers can soon be done by smartphones with no performance loss. People might actually buy other devices less when peripherals will allow for the same functionality at a fraction of the size and cost. They might not be 100 percent effective compared to the originals, but except for professionals, it's likely unnecessary.

There are obviously other developments, but books can be written on the subject. Suffice it to say we have not seen the end of smartphone development and you will be able to do even more in the future.

Conclusion

Smartphones have become increasingly complex and interesting since their mainstream debut. There are hidden depths to them that most users don’t even dream about, but we hope that with this piece we’ve given you some new ideas about what you can do with it. Always keep on the lookout for new ideas and uses, but similarly be careful for less than helpful pursuits. May you enjoy your time with your phone, and may you enjoy some of the new opportunities that have come to mind.