Talkin' Tools: Smartphones, Tablets Walk the Walk

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Photo of iOS mobile devices courtesy of Apple.

Today’s smartphones and tablets, with their wide variety of apps and features, are virtual toolboxes filled with practical tools. If you are only using these devices for phone calls, email, calendaring and the like, you are tapping only a tiny portion of their potential.

These devices are crammed full of cameras, GPS apps, microphones, accelerometers and more. Many apps simply take advantage of the presence of one or more of these features and extend and enhance what you can do with them. Knowing this can give you a framework for how you might use apps.

I’ll speak of smartphones, tablets and apps generically here. At this point, you can safely assume that whether you are on the iOS, Android or another platform, there are probably apps of the types I’ll describe. Just take a look through the relevant app store or a resource like AppAdvice.

Let’s look at some app categories associated with common features:

1. Cameras can be put to many uses, not the least of which is as a memory enhancer to help with home renovation or landscaping ideas, shopping wish lists and even hotel room numbers or parking lot locations. Many lawyers have used a smartphone camera to “copy” a document to print later. However, there are document scanner apps with useful features. Beyond documents, the camera also powers bar code and QR code scanning. And, thinking of the camera as the eyes of your device, you have a telescope, binoculars, magnifying glass and similar tools.

2. Microphones open the door to a variety of uses through apps. You can use a voice recorder app to record presentations, ideas or meetings. Some note-taking apps allow you to record while taking notes and synchronize the recording to your notes. You can go back, tap on your note and hear what was being said at the time. Microphone apps exist for voice recognition, song recognition, dictation and more.

3. Clocks—alarms, reminders, multiple time-zone clocks, countdown timers and stopwatches—make use of time functionality. Apps showing “time remaining” in large numbers are a simple tool for presenters and help keep speakers to allotted times.

4. GPS location can be useful in many ways, from finding things nearby to delivering location-specific services. For runners and cyclists, apps like Endomondo record route, speed, distance and other data about your activity.

5. Accelerometers also have features that relate to movement and location in space. There are many innovative ways these factor into games, remote controls and similar apps. Some simple apps in this category can, for example, turn your device into handy tools like a level, plumb bob or measuring tape.

Your smartphone is not just for calling anymore. There are many unexpected yet logical ways to extend the capability of standard features and functions. You will want to explore some to find other ways you can turn your mobile device into your own customized toolbox.

Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based legal technology writer and information technology lawyer.

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