This summer marks 15 years since Apple launched 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 since its inception, but Google and Apple have now added the camera and a dash of augmented reality to the experience to help with local orientation. (However, your results will vary by location and be prepared for some battery drain.)
In Google Maps for Android and iOS, enter your destination, tap Directions, and choose Walk. Tap the live view icon in the corner of the map. Your phone will instruct you to aim the camera at nearby buildings so the app can recognize your surroundings by comparing them to Google Street View imagery. Once set, your instructions will be overlaid on the camera screen to guide you.
Apple Maps uses the iPhone’s camera in a similar 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 an on-screen compass that appears when you begin your journey.)
In addition to their duties as tour guides, the phone’s camera can double as a scanner for documents and quick response or QR codes. On 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 that 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 Apple’s or Google Camera’s camera app 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.
Privacy considerations aside, however, there is one caveat with QR codes: be sure to only scan codes from trusted sources, as cybercriminals use them for fraud and malware distribution.
Name this melody
The phone’s microphone has also expanded its capabilities beyond voice memos, dictation, and audio/video calls in recent years. One reason: Apple’s acquisition of the music recognition app Shazam in 2018.
The Auto Shazam feature, which automatically attempts to identify music playing nearby, works in both iOS and Android versions and can be activated by pressing and holding the Shazam button when the app is open . (This may consume additional battery juice and data.)
After identifying a song with Shazam, you can play it on 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 of Google’s Pixel phones have a similar Now Playing feature, which you can enable in the sound and vibration settings. Once activated, the software displays song titles on the lock screen and creates a history list of music playing within microphone range. (The Now Playing tool was designed for Pixel phones, but a web search reveals that creative programmers have adapted it for other Android phones.)
Get help fast
If you need help in an emergency, your phone has shortcuts to connect you. On an iPhone 8 or later, press and hold the right side button and either volume button 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, keep holding the buttons until the phone automatically dials the call. In Emergency SOS settings, you can activate 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 models, come with their own emergency service aids. For phones with a power button, press and hold this button until you see the emergency icon, then tap it. On a phone without a power button, try swiping down the screen to get to the emergency mode quick settings, or swiping up from the bottom to get to the emergency button. Google’s free Personal Safety app for Android provides more tools for dealing with future emergency situations for those who want to be prepared.