In some ways, life can be measured by the accumulation of things. Our old technology can serve as a time capsule of the months or years when we were using it. In the same way that pulling old toys from a box in the attic triggers childhood memories of playing with them on the bedroom floor, our phones capture memories, both figuratively and literally. Maybe that’s why we have such a hard time getting rid of them.
If you’ve got a steadily growing pile of old iPhones somewhere, threatening to coalesce into a singularity of screens and circuits, you might do well to find a new use for them before they swallow you whole. Here are some novel ways you can give your old iPhone the second life it deserves.
Virtual reality has endeavored to break from the shackles of our imaginations and into the real world for decades. Previous attempts, like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy system, met with mixed responses and short lives, never really gaining a foothold on the market or in the public consciousness.
In recent years, however, advances in technology led to renewed public interest. Devices like the Oculus, Vive, and PlayStation’s PSVR brought VR to the masses, so long as you have the desire, a semi-dedicated space, and several hundred dollars of disposable income. That last requirement still has some people at arm’s length. Getting into VR at that level requires a substantial investment for something you may not like or use very often.
Other companies took that as an opportunity to serve a different segment of the market who might want to dip their toes into VR without sinking a bunch of money upfront, using technology they already have at hand.
If you’ve been hesitant about jumping onto the VR bandwagon, an old iPhone can be a great low-cost option. You can get a head-mounted frame like Google Cardboard for about $20. As explained by PCMag, while you won’t have access to the same VR lineup as more advanced devices, there are still a number of fun VR experiences that your iPhone is fully capable of running.
Landline, without the line
There was a time when the only way you could make a call was with a wired phone tethered to the wall. Calling friends was a shot in the dark. You never knew who would pick up and you often didn’t know who was calling you.
While cell phones provide a convenience that landlines never did, there was a certain amount of freedom in being able to leave your house without the expectation that you would always be available. There was also simplicity in a device that did one thing, without the distraction of so much else. Perhaps that’s why so many parents wait to get cell phones for their children until they’re a bit older, in an attempt to avoid the digital minefield of the internet for a little longer.
Still, there’s an interval of years between when a child might start spending time at home alone, and when they’re ready for a cell phone. If you need a way for your kids to reach you when you’re out, or if you just want a dedicated line for reaching you at home, an old iPhone can be a great solution.
Just because your iPhone is no longer connected to cellular service, doesn’t mean it’s lost all of its contact functions. iMessage and FaceTime will work over Wi-Fi, (via Apple) turning your discarded iPhone into a modern version of a landline with video calling capabilities.
Digital picture frame
Even if you’ve since moved onto a bigger and better phone, it’s likely that your old phone has a bunch of memories stored on it that you may not be keen to get rid of. Sure, you could go through the hassle of moving them to the cloud or transferring them to your new device, but that can be a pain. Luckily, there’s an alternative.
Your photos are already happily stored on your old iPhone and all you really need is a way to display them in your home. Even if it’s several years old, your discarded iPhone is still a moderately advanced handheld computer with the ability to perform various complex functions. Displaying stored photographs should be a breeze.
There are a number of applications available in the App store which can transform your phone into a digital photo frame. LiveFrame is one such example, which can display photos stored on your iPhone as well as images from Flickr albums.
The features allow you to customize your viewing experience, choosing photos from a certain time period or from specific albums. You can also apply filters and transitions, set a time of day for the slideshow to turn on and off, and display time, date, and weather conditions.
Your iPhone came with a standard weather app, offering a quick overview of the temperature range and predicting the weather for the current day as well as the upcoming 10-day forecast. That’s fine for most everyday uses, but if you’re going to dedicate a device you can do so much better.
The weather data provided on your phone is generalized for your area and may not represent what you’re likely to experience at your home. That’s because weather data comes from thousands of stations, ships, aircraft, buoys, and satellites which gather a wide-ranging picture of large systems, (via Lumen). By definition, they’re looking at the big picture. A personalized weather station lets you dial in on conditions affecting you directly.
While this solution requires an investment of additional equipment, it’s a great way to revive an old iPhone and turn it into something new. The Netatmo Smart Home Weather Station comes with two small towers — one for inside and one for outside — which gather data on temperature, humidity, air quality, CO2 levels, barometric pressure, and weather data, (via Netatmo). All of which conspire to create evolving weather predictions for your immediate environment which can be displayed on your iPhone via an accompanying app.
Turn it into a semiprofessional camera
Taking photo and video is one of the most common activities an iPhone is used for. Since the advent of smartphones, we’ve all become documentarians, detailing in excruciating detail the story most important to us, that of our own lives.
Depending on how old your previous iPhone is, it’s likely it has a pretty decent camera built in. Keeping it charged and carrying it around as a dedicated camera can be accomplished without any additional steps, but you can level it up even further with a number of attachments and accessories.
Whatever your imaging needs, there’s probably an attachment that can make it happen. From phone cases with built-in lenses for shooting movies or doing landscape photography to filters and light polarizers, there’s a wide world of iPhone camera upgrades. More complicated mounts include larger grips, studio-quality microphones, and brighter flashes. Some, like Fjorden, even come with improved camera controls including an enhanced ability to manipulate your camera’s exposure, shutter speed, and ISO, all of which are difficult at best with the iPhone’s native camera app.
Portable scanner and fax machine
When’s the last time you were called upon to scan and fax something? Luckily, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it can be a huge hassle, especially if you don’t have the necessary hardware at the ready. In an increasingly paperless world, easy access to those antiquated technologies can be hard to come by.
While a lot of things we used to scan and fax have transitioned to digital processes, every once in a while, you might need to print, scan, sign, and send a document. Rather than taking a trip to the library or into the office to co-opt company equipment, turn to your old iPhone to save the day.
Evernote’s Scannable app is free and captures high-quality images of your documents with little effort, (via Apple). Once you point the camera at a piece of paper, intuitive technology recognizes its shape and orients the image straight on, even if taken at an angle. Images can be saved within Evernote or on the phone’s camera roll for easy access.
Once you’ve signed and scanned your document, apps like FAX.PLUS let you send and receive faxes between 180 countries, at no cost.
Alarm clock and sleep tracker
A modern smartphone is many things. Ironically, actually using them as phones falls pretty far down the list, after texting, surfing the web, and managing email. In a given day, the very first thing you’re likely to use your phone for is waking up. Your first interaction is likely turning off the alarm or hitting the snooze.
Phones make pretty good alarm clocks. The chimes and alerts are customizable, and you can easily set as many alarms as you want, at whatever volume and frequency you choose. Using your phone as an alarm clock, however, can be dangerous. Turning off your morning alert can easily turn into wasting time online or doom scrolling the news when you should be getting ready. It’s not the ideal way to start your day.
Using an old phone can remedy that to some degree by dedicating it to its alarm function and nothing else, leaving you free to keep the siren song of your actual phone at arm’s length a little bit longer. Customer phone docks like this one from Areaware can turn an old phone into something resembling a vintage alarm clock. Pairing your new phone alarm clock with an app like Sleep Cycle can also track your sleep patterns and give you useful data for maximizing your rest.
Handheld gaming device
You’re probably already playing games on your phone. The allure of mobile games is too strong for most of us to resist forever. Before long, you’re playing match-three games, even if you don’t really want to. In fact, more people play games on their phones than on consoles and PCs combined.
Even without cellular service, your old phone still has access to the app store via Wi-Fi, including Apple Arcade, granting you continued access to all of the games you love, or love to hate. Clearing away all of the unnecessary applications on your now-dedicated gaming machine leaves more space for games and your old phone can become a serviceable gaming device.
Pairing the iPhone with a phone-compatible gaming controller completes the transformation from tap and swipe to a full-fledged gaming experience. If you really want to max out your iPhone’s gaming capability, stick it inside a Backbone iPhone controller. It’ll cost you $99.99 upfront, but once it’s connected to your iPhone 6 or newer via the lightning port, you’ll unlock a lot of functionality.
In addition to playing native iPhone games, Backbone’s accompanying app supports remote play to your Xbox or PlayStation, letting you play console games you already own at a distance.
External hard drive
If nothing else, your old iPhone has a decent amount of storage capacity, especially once you rid it of all of the apps and content you’re no longer using. Throwing it away or chucking it in a drawer means losing out on storage space which could backup your important files.
Getting your phone to act like a hard drive is surprisingly easy. After all, it’s already designed for storing and organizing files, you just need a way to access that infrastructure. File Manager, available on the App Store, provides a simplified interface for locating and moving files around. Connecting directly to a computer will let you drag and drop files like you would any other hard drive or flash drive, and you can also transfer files wirelessly using Dropbox.
Once you’re set up, an old phone can become a convenient way to store or transfer files from one location to another. Alternatively, snag a Lightening-to-USB adapter and leave your iPhone connected to your computer at all times to extend its storage capabilities or segment your file storage.
Personal sous chef
Many of the suggestions on this list involve leaving your phone in the bedroom, connected to the computer, or placed in a central location like the living room. Now I want to talk to you about your kitchen.
As explained by Time, an old iPhone can become the ultimate kitchen assistant once you find an out-of-the-way but accessible location for it among your countertop appliances. Using Wi-Fi, your old iPhone has access to the entire internet of recipes, meal suggestions, and cooking guides. Not to mention timers and reminders. If you have smart appliances, you could even control them using your old phone.
Most importantly, you’ll no longer have to worry about hot oil splashing on your everyday phone or sauce getting between the case and phone and stinking up the place every time you bring it to your face.
If you find yourself in a situation where your hands are full or covered over by oven mitts, Apple’s digital assistant, Siri, can get you the next steps, set timers, or control appliances with voice commands, leaving your hands free for chopping and sneaking bites.
Use it as an iPod
In many ways, the iPhone grew out of its older sibling, the iPod, building on technologies that evolved in the MP3 ecosystem. All of the music functions that made the iPod a technological darling and such a formidable device, also exist on your iPhone no matter how old it is.
Sadly, the iPod has been dying a slow death over recent years, with Apple discontinuing all of their models save for the iPod Touch, the last vestige of a once-proud product line. Less than a week ago at the time of this writing, in early May 2022, Apple announced that the inevitable was finally happening. They stopped production on the seventh-generation iPod. It will still be available in stores as long as supplies last, but once they’re gone, the iPod will be no more. Except of course, in the legacy, it helped build in the iPhone which is still going strong.
There’s little difference between the iPod Touch and the iPhone, with the notable exception of the ability to make phone calls over a cellular network. If you’ve got an old phone, that isn’t a concern. Without a cellular plan, what you’ve essentially got is a legacy iPod Touch. Remove all of the extraneous applications to free up space and load your old phone with all of your favorite tunes and you’ve got a functional iPod that will keep you in your own personal soundtrack long after the last iPod disappears from store shelves.
Turn it into a lamp
So far, all of these solutions assume that your phone is in reasonably working order, maintaining at least most of its initial hardware and functionality. What are you to do if you replaced your phone because it was so beaten and battered you couldn’t stand to hold it in your hand any longer?
Even if your iPhone is so old and broken that it’s little more than a paperweight, you can still use the built-in flashlight as long as the phone will power one. The light on your phone is small enough but bright enough that it makes for a good bedside light or reading lamp and can be repurposed as such using a customer mount. The options are as variable as your tastes and can match just about any aesthetic preference.
The phone itself is doing all the heavy lifting here, all you really need is a way to prop it up into a lamp kind of shape. If you’re the sort of person inclined toward DIY, Instructables has tutorials for crafting and printing your own lamp structure. If you’d rather someone else make it for you, there are online creators who have already done the work, (via iPHONENESS).
The brightness controls let you choose from a few different settings, allowing you to light up an area or read without waking any bedmates. Not bad for something that’s spent the last few years in a drawer.