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 often get buried in the process. Here’s a quick look at some perhaps overlooked tools, featured here in iOS 15 and Android 12.
Indicate the path
A map app has been part of the toolbox of modern smartphones 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 orientation on the ground. (Your results will vary by location, however, and be prepared to drain the battery.)
In Google Maps for Android and iOS, enter your destination, tap Directions, and select Walk. Tap the Live View icon in the corner of the map. Your phone asks you to point the camera at nearby buildings so the app can recognize your surroundings by comparing it to Google Street View images. Once set, your directions appear overlaid on the view through on the camera screen to guide you.
Apple Maps uses the iPhone camera the same way when you request walking directions in supported cities and tap the AR icon on the map screen. (For alternative navigation options, Apple includes a standalone digital compass app with iOS, and Google Maps has a compass that appears onscreen when you begin your journey.)
In addition to its tour guide functions, the phone’s camera can also serve as a scanner for documents and quick-response, or QR, codes. In iOS, you can scan a document or receipt into the Notes app by creating a new note, tapping the camera icon in the toolbar, and selecting Scan Documents. You can also scan and attach a document to an email you are composing by tapping the scan icon on the keyboard toolbar.
As for those square black and white QR codes for websites or electronic payment systems, just open the Apple Camera app or Google Camera and point it at the QR code to scan it. Many Samsung Galaxy phones have a QR Scanner option that also works with the camera app.
But there is a caveat with QR codes, beyond privacy considerations: be sure to only scan codes from trusted sources, as cybercriminals use them to defraud and distribute malware.
Name this melody
The phone’s microphone has also extended its powers beyond voice memos, dictation and audio/video calls in recent years. One of the reasons: Apple’s acquisition in 2018 of the music recognition application Shazam.
The Auto Shazam feature – which automatically tries to identify music playing nearby – works on both iOS and Android versions and can be activated by pressing and holding the Shazam button when the app is open. (This can sap battery juice and extra data.)
After tagging a song with Shazam, you can play it in an Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, or YouTube Music account. In Shazam settings, you can connect your list of recognized songs to Apple Music or Spotify.
Many Google Pixel phones include a similar Now Playing feature that you can enable in Sound & Vibration settings. Once activated, the software displays song titles on the lock screen and creates a history list of music played within microphone range. (The Now Playing tool is designed for Pixel phones, but a web search reveals creative coders have adapted it for other Android phones.)
Get help fast
When you need emergency assistance, your phone has shortcuts to connect. On an iPhone 8 or later, press and hold the right button and either volume button until you see the Emergency SOS slider onscreen, then drag the slider to call the number local emergency; If you can’t drag the slider, press and hold the buttons until the phone automatically places the call. In the Emergency SOS settings, you can enable the phone to make an emergency call when you press the side button five times.
Android-based phones, including Google’s Pixel and Samsung’s Galaxy, have their own emergency services aids. On phones with a power button, press and hold that button until you see the emergency icon, then press it. On a phone without a power button, try swiping down to access the emergency mode quick settings or swiping up from the bottom to access the emergency call button. Google’s free Personal Safety app for Android provides more tools to handle future emergencies, for those who like to be prepared.