The hardware acceleration in smartphones has made dents across industries , prompting manufacturers of cameras, radios, music players, navigators and even PCs to innovate in order to stay relevant. Despite this, the multi-tasking smartphone can do even more . There are millions of applications available that can be installed individually or be paired with a few interesting hardware accessories to do a lot more than just play music or capture images. While it is common to use the smartphone as a mouse or a webcam for a personal computer, innovative apps let you use it for out-of-the box stuff like starting a car or making and accepting payments.
Spending huge sums of money on a universal remote control might not be a great idea, especially when you own a smartphone. There are plenty of applications available for different operating systems that can turn the smartphone into a universal remote. However, that involves buying a small (and not so expensive) accessory to be paired with the app. Technically, most AV devices still use remote controls that work on infrared light. As smartphones don’t have IR emitters, one has to install an additional IR dongle. For instance, there is a special Tata Sky Mobile access app available for iOS and Android smartphones that turns the phone into a universal remote control for Tata Sky, DVD, TV and amplifier. But it requires an MP3 mobile accessory (Rs 350) to be connected to the phone’s 3.5 mm jack. Dijit Universal Remote for iOS needs to be paired with Griffin Technology’s Beacon. Re app, RedEye and Peel Universal Remote are some of the other remote options. Search for universal remote apps in iOS App Store and Google Play Store for more such options.
BUSINESS CARD SCANNER
Meetings, conferences, trade-shows and expos only add to our collection of business cards. In fact, it is common to find a long-forgotten business card in the back pocket of your trousers or in the laptop bag. These cards are usually dumped in the maws of our drawers and come out only when we need a specific contact number. But smartphones can make organising them a breeze. There are special business card scanner applications that store the information listed on the card to the phone as well as on the cloud. These applications use the phone camera to capture the image and with the help of software reads all details and automatically enters it in the phonebook. But not all business card scanners are perfect and some often have trouble recognising characters, especially when unsual fonts are used. Also, the phone has to be held very steadily and in good lighting while scanning a card.
CamCard is an application that accurately scans business cards. Once the image is captured, it automatically saves the information in the card holder or the address book. The free version of the application allow users to save up to 20 contacts in the first week followed by two contacts every week and is available for iOS and Android. ScanBizCards not only saves the information to the phonebook but also backs it up to the cloud. It also syncs contacts between iOS and Android devices. WorldCard Mobile is another application that is good with this job. There are many other free options too.
With the increasing number of portable devices like laptops, tablets and music players we need to be connected to the Internet constantly. Wi-Fi routers are good at keeping all these devices online, but things become tough when you are on the move. You always have the option of buying a data dongle or a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. Alteratively, if you own the latest Android or Windows smartphone, you can use the phone’s data connection to create a secure Wi-Fi network of your own. This option is available in your settings menu as “Wi-Fi hotspot, Internet tethering or Internet sharing”. You can secure this network with a password and connect up to five devices to surf the Net. In the US and some other countries, operators have special plans for Internet tethering. But thankfully, Indian carriers don’t charge extra for mobile hotspots.
There are apps for taking measurements when a tape is not at hand. For instance, while planning to buy a new house, these apps can prove useful in measuring measure how high the ceiling is or to roughly calculate the floor area. But do keep in mind that these apps, most of which used augmented reality, are not spot on and need double check with a physical tape should you need accurate measurements.
LOCATE AND START YOUR CAR
There is nothing new in using GPS-enabled smartphones as navigators or using applications to locate where your car is parked. But how about locking and unlocking the car using your smartphone? And, guess what, you can even start the engine with a tap on the smartphone. The remote key comes in the form of the Viper SmartStart app for iOS, Android and BlackBerry smartphones. But it is not as simple as it sounds. Once downloaded, the free app needs to be paired with the Viper Smart Start GPS device that costs around $400. Install the Viper SmartStart security system in your car, connect your phone to the system in your car and authenticate using the GSM network. The app can also be used to pre-heat or pre-cool the car and, of course, locate where it is parked. Applications like Trapster alert you about police speed traps and other roadway hazards.
WATCH LIVE TV
You stay alone and don’t think it makes sense investing on a television? Or do you often end up missing your favorite show or news because of the erratic power supply? If you have a smartphone and a good data connection, this should be the last thing to worry about. Today, there are various apps capable of streaming live TV on to the handset. But while the app might be free, the service won’t be. All channels come with a daily, weekly or a monthly subscription. Also, for seamless streaming, you’d need fast, uninterrupted data connectivity-ideally over 3G or Wi-Fi. Also keep in mind that streaming videos consumes a lot of data and you might end up getting huge bills. So it is better to have a data plan that covers this. Zenga TV, ditto TV, mimobiTV, MunduTV are are popular live TV apps. Not all of them have all channels, which are categories under various genres.
HEATH, FITNESS GUIDE
If fitness is on your mind, you don’t necessarily have to employ a personal trainer. For workouts you can look for almost anything like a pedometer, Yoga or cardio guide. Some apps offer online videos for guidance while others use images and illustrations. Other apps record food intake to show how many calories you can consume during a day. It also lists the calories counts of various food items. Then there are first aid apps that guide you with basic steps to be followed while waiting for help to arrive in case of an accident or another medical emergency. However, blood pressure and sugar monitor apps need to be paired with accessories to be effective.
Imagine controlling your home’s light, entertainment, security, etc, from your smartphone. The Crestron Mobile control app for iPhone, iPad and Android devices do involve a lot of investment. You will have to install the Crestron automation system and then download the Crestron Mobile G app to configure the home control unit.
With Near-Field Communication (NFC) coming to smartphones, everyone is expecting a gradual decline in the use of plastic cards and cash. Digital transactions might still be a distant dream for most of India, but local services have started scratching the surface. Airtel Money is a special service that works on the cell number. Users recharge their accounts and these can be used to make phone and electricity bill payments from the mobile. Some coffee shops have also started accepting Airtel Money payments. Smartphones are also replacing swipe machines for small businesses and at homes using a special accessory attached to the phone’s 3.5mm jack. Sometime back MTS launched a pilot service called mPoS (Mobile as Point of Sale) that was designed to suit the needs of retailers, home-delivery based service models like e-commerce players, food chains, pizza delivery outlets and companies with direct sales. The service allowed users to swipe debit/credit cards with the portable card reader accessory and use the application to process the transaction.
BARCODE & QR READER
You can put your smartphone’s camera to good use for scanning barcodes and QR codes with the help of third-party apps. QR codes are a mosaic of black-and-white squares that offer an efficient link to websites and can even store small information like text, phone numbers, email addresses, calendar events or be used to send SMS messages. Launching the app activates the camera that has an onscreen framing guide. Line up the camera with the QR code and hold the device steadily until the app reads the code. Interestingly, there are apps that let you create your own QR codes. Similarly, using barcode scanner apps, you can scan barcodes as well.