Smartphones seem to be everywhere these days. The affordability of the newer models and their apparent richness of features have made them must-haves for any individual, even those who are resistant to change. The devices, though, have gotten so powerful and the application base so broad that many of us are clueless as to what these mini-monsters are capable of doing. Gone are the days when they were used just for texting and talking — we are now squarely in the realm of pervasive computing. So how do you get the most out of your smartphone? Here are my suggestions:
Plugging into your social circles
Though most people probably already have this base covered because of its relative importance in this generation, it has to be said: the newest tier of communication is the social one. Although some people have taken this to a whole new dizzying level, possibly oversharing in some instances, I find that this platform is the best one with which to engage on a wide scale. This juxtaposes very well with the one-on-one engagement of a telephone conversation. Not only is there the benefit of mass engagement, but I find social media the best way to glean actionable, real-time information through localized trending information. My current list of essentials include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Get Glue.
Speaking of gleaning actionable information, podcasts are one of the most underutilized methods of getting information, great for occupying those busy-wait hours that could be better spent learning something new or catching up on your news. Podcasts are downloadable/streamable audio feeds that come from various sites. My favourite podcasts at the moment include Verve, Click from BBC, Daily Boost and the VergeCast.
Keeping current with your reading
If you don’t have an RSS reader, it’s time for you to get one! It’s one of the best ways of catching up on stories from your favourite news sources while you’re on the go. Most websites now carry RSS feeds, a stripped-down version of the latest site content delivered to an intermediary platform for viewing. I currently have RSS feeds for the Jamaica Gleaner, Reuters, Lifehacker.com and Gizmodo. It’s great for quick, light reading.
Replacing your directory
There is nothing more frustrating than needing a phone number or address for a business place and not having the information ready at hand. That was the singular reason why I loaded up the local yellow pages app on my phone. Between this, FourSquare and Google maps, I think I finally have a handle on where to go to get most things done in Kingston, Jamaica.
Using it as a mobile map
As mentioned before, maps apps are a virtual necessity in this day and age. On a recent trip abroad, it was practically indispensable as I planned my entire itinerary and travel routes using the app. From food to shopping, it’s easy to find spots in your locale that cater to your needs and plot out how to get there from where you are.
Using it as a timer
In an effort to break my habit of procrastination and loitering, I decided to start using the Pomodoro Technique to manage my time. What became very clear to me is that time-bound tasks and activities are always essential, and so my timer app is probably the most used app on my smartphone. Figuring out a call back time? Timer! How long should the potatoes boil? Timer! How much time should I give myself to rest and recover? TIMER!
Using it as a voice recorder
My brain isn’t what it used to be, so I need to find creative ways of “remembering” the things that matter. Provided that it is allowed, most of my meetings, will be recorded. It makes getting those all-important nuances documented at the end a whole lot easier, as the phone does all the remembering, not me. The voice recorder also comes in handy when I have podcasts to do while on the road. It’s one of those integral components of my mobile media lab.
As your MP3 player
Speaking of mobile media lab, one of the tools you should never leave home without is your MP3 player. This is the ultimate mood-hacking tool. Music is a great way to inspire yourself or wind down from a rough day, thus validating the need for MP3 players. With ample storage and pretty decent audio quality, smartphones fill this role pretty well. Most come with media player apps already loaded that are capable of replaying both audio and video. It just requires a little effort to get familiar with the controls before you are off to the races.
As your portable camera
Rounding out the circle of my media apps is the trusty camera. They have come a long way from the rust-bucket VGA cams that used to grace the old smartphones. Many of the newer smartphones take arguably better pictures than some of the point-and-shoots from 3 years ago. The camera, coupled with a few choice filters, make even the most juvenile photographer look like a seasoned veteran.
Using it as your surveillance system
This has been a fairly recent addition to my arsenal, but last does not mean least. Not only do you need to ensure that they don’t steal your new best friend, the phone, but you can also extend the security features to the rest of your assets. Use motion-detection software to capture suspicious activity around your home/office. Use a continuous video tool to record your journeys to your prospective destination, thus enabling you to capture unforeseen occurrences and retain the video as evidence. You can even use the device as a GPS tracker to better capture movements and activities in your car. All in all, I find that it beats the heck out of the thousands of dollars you’ll spend on specialized equipment to do the same thing.
With the app stores on the various platforms always growing, this list is by no means finite or exhaustive. I look forward to getting feedback on the essentials that I may have overlooked — and no, I don’t expect Candy Crush Saga to be one of them.