This summer marks 15 years since Apple released the first iPhone, and since then smartphones have become the Swiss Army knives of technology. But with the avalanche of updates since 2007, less obvious features are often buried in the process. Here’s a quick look at some potentially overlooked tools, shown here in iOS 15 and Android 12.
Show the way
A maps app has been part of the modern smartphone toolbox from the start, but Google and Apple have now added the camera and a touch of augmented reality to the experience for extra help with ground orientation. (Your results will vary by location, though, and be prepared for some battery drain.)
In Google Maps for Android and iOS, enter your destination, tap Directions, and select Hiking. Tap the Live View icon in the corner of the map. Your phone instructs you to point the camera at nearby buildings so that the app can recognize your surroundings by comparing it to Google Street View images. Once set up, your directions will appear as an overlay on the see-through screen on the camera screen to guide you further.
Apple Maps uses the iPhone’s camera in a similar way when you request walking routes in supported cities and tap the AR icon on the map screen. (For alternative navigation options, Apple has a standalone digital Compass app with iOS, and Google Maps has a compass that appears on the screen when you begin your journey.)
In addition to the tasks of the guide, the phone’s camera can also act as a scanner for documents as well as quick responders or QR codes. In iOS, you can scan a document or receipt in the Notes app by creating a new note, pressing the camera icon on the toolbar, and selecting Scan Documents. You can also scan a document and attach it to an email message you are composing by tapping the scan icon on the keyboard toolbar.
As for those boxy, black and white QR codes for websites or electronic payment systems, just open the Camera app from Apple or Google Camera and point it at the QR code to scan it. Many of Samsung’s Galaxy phones have a QR scanner option that also works with the camera app.
But there is a caveat to QR codes, in addition to privacy concerns: be careful to scan codes only from trusted sources, as cyber criminals use them for fraud and to distribute malicious software.
name that melody
The phone’s microphone has also expanded beyond voice memos, dictation, and audio/video calls in recent years. One reason: Apple’s 2018 purchase of the Shazam music recognition app.
The Auto Shazam feature — which automatically attempts to identify music playing nearby — works on both the iOS and Android versions and can be enabled by holding the Shazam button when the app is open. (This can sap extra battery juice and data.)
After you identify a song with Shazam, you can play it in an Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify or YouTube Music account. In the Shazam settings, you can link your list of recognized songs to Apple Music or Spotify.
Many of Google’s Pixel phones include a similar Now Playing feature that you can enable in the Sound & Vibration settings. Once activated, the software displays song titles on the lock screen and creates a history list of the music played within the microphone range. (The Now Playing tool was designed for Pixel phones, but a web search reveals that creative coders have adapted it for other Android phones.)
Get help fast
If you need emergency help, your phone has shortcuts to connect you. On an iPhone 8 or later, press and hold the right button and one of the volume buttons until you see the emergency SOS slider on the screen, then drag the slider to call the local emergency number; if you can’t drag the slider, press and hold the buttons until the phone automatically rings. In the Emergency SOS settings, you can enable the phone to call an emergency number when you press the side button five times.
Android-based phones, including Google’s Pixel and Samsung Galaxy models, have their own emergency services. On phones with a power button, press and hold that button until you see the emergency icon and tap it. On a phone without a power button, try swiping down on the screen to get to Emergency Mode Quick Settings, or swipe up from the bottom to get to the Emergency Call button. Google’s free Personal Safety app for Android offers more tools for dealing with future emergencies, for those who like to be prepared.