There’s An App For That: 10 Household Items Replaced By Software [iOS]

Ads by Google

Smartphones and tablets have changed the way we live life. No longer can we wake up and lull around in bed without checking our email or Twitter mentions. Nobody worries about getting lost any more unless they’re low on battery, the smartphone user’s achilles heel in a world of do-everything devices.

Our gadgets have also replaced a significant amount of physical objects, to the point where many of us wouldn’t consider buying a product when there is an equivalent piece of software that is up to the task.

In light of this here are a list of things many of you might not consider purchasing ever again.


The humble calculator is an item that many occasionally come across when looking through untouched cupboards, dust-laden desktops and that drawer in the kitchen where you put things like rubber bands and blu-tack. The death of the dedicated calculator isn’t a particularly new thing, in school I remember debates over whether calculators on chunky Nokia and Motorola feature phones were suitable for classroom use (most teachers were wise to this).

These days you don’t even need me to suggest a replacement apps, the iPhone’s in-built Calculator performs a variety of scientific tasks just by using it in landscape mode. For those of you who need graphing try Quick Graph, or if you’d rather input sums using your handwriting then the free MyScript Calculator will do the job. If you’re just bored of the plain-looking calculator app then check out RetroCalc ($1.99) for some of the world’s most memorable math machines.

Ads by Google


Unless you’re an artist, photographer or busy digitising rolls of 35mm film, you have no reason to buy a scanner ever again. They’re big, clunky, space-consuming and too loud – why not use an app on your phone, instead?

Seeing as you’re probably going to want those documents in digital form anyway, an app like TurboScan ($1.99) uses your device’s camera to make black and white or colour scans at varying contrasts before saving them as PDFs. CamScanner is a free alternative, though TurboScan remains a personal favourite of mine. If you’re really serious about this method you might want to build the ultimate document scanner to accompany your favourite app.

The Diary

This one is pretty easy – just about any app that lets you take notes could be used as a diary, though that’s not entirely practical. Instead there exist some great dedicated journaling apps, and most of these do way more than a boring old dog-eared paper diary could.

Simon recently put DayOne ($4.99) through its paces, a diary solution that syncs with your Mac (the total cost for both apps is less than most Moleskine notebooks, at $15). Another big-name alternative here is, and you could also check out another four other alternatives we’ve tried out.

If you really want to push the limits of what a diary should be and take full advantage of social networking (you forward thinker!) then you could sign up for Path and document your life with a select few other individuals. Hey, it works for Britney and it could work for you.

Remote Controls

Remember those all-in-one replacement remote controls? People still buy them! Idiots, right? Clearly they’ve not seen the light and replaced their remote control with a smartphone app. That, or they don’t have a compatible TV (fair enough). If you own a modern TV that you’ve purchased in the last few years from a named manufacturer then there’s a good chance you can control it from your tablet or smartphone.

I have an LG TV that, when paired with the LG TV Remote app lets me use my phone as a touchpad and general remote control, provides access to useless smart TV apps and even takes screenshots (way more useful that I ever imagined). Samsung owner? Grab Samsung SmartView. Sony? Media Remote for iPhone is your friend. Other TV? Search for “<manufacturer> iPhone remote” and see what comes up, you might be surprised.

There are also other apps that use accessories to turn your phone into a true universal remote, but they involve additional hardware and that’s against the ethos of this article so I’m leaving them out.


Remember radios? They were once found on kitchen counters, in garages and on bedroom floors. No longer do you need to rely on the airwaves (though in the event of a zombie apocalypse you might) for music and information – use your phone and spend that money you saved on some cheap speakers instead.

I’m not referring to home audio setups here, particularly hi-fi sound, but a cheaper means of getting music or news to your earholes. Spotify and Rdio both provide compelling music solutions (and can now be paired with Twitter #music), while TuneIn Radio can’t be beaten for listening to actual live broadcasts the world over – take that, FM.

Trackpad & Mouse

Ok, so it’s unlikely you’re going to completely replace your mouse or trackpad with your iPhone or iPad, but in the event of peripheral failure you can always use your iOS device as a stop-gap before your replacement arrives. They’re also great for bedroom and living room use, or anywhere else you’re feeling too lazy to move.

There are two strong competitors here, a free option called Remote Mouse which features in-app purchases to unlock additional features and remove adverts, or the completely ad-free and unrestricted app TouchPad ($4.99).

Alarm Clock

We’ve been using small personal devices as alarm clocks for as long as we’ve had small personal devices. Digital organisers, watches and dumb phones all did the job amicably, but now we’ve got an endless sea of software to choose from, not least the stock Alarms app.

Apple’s alarm app is ok, it works, but it’s a little fiddly. If you prefer a minimalist approach then try Rise ($1.99), or if statistics and sleep patterns are of interest there’s always Sleep Cycle.

The Landline

Technically your iPhone already replaces the landline by performing its function as a phone, but mobile charges can be expensive. There was once a time when we’d resort to landlines to avoid carrier charges or steep international rates, but that’s all changed thanks to always-on-us VoIP.

Skype is the first place to start and then there’s fring too. Both these solutions allow you to call landlines, mobiles and international numbers for cheap. If you’d like a different approach (and live in the US) then give Google Voice a go, it routes your outgoing calls through an access number which charges you the standard (inclusive) rate for any number dialled, national or international. Cheapo!

Notebooks & Scrap Paper

Scrap paper gets lost, covered in coffee and crushed in pockets. Handwritten notes aren’t digital, and in this era of accessing all your documents from anywhere with a data connection this is often a problem.

There are so many note-taking apps for iOS I don’t know where to start. The big services all have their own apps: Evernote, Pocket, Remember the Milk and even the stock Notes app which is made a lot more useful thanks to iCloud. Bakari featured a few time-saving apps in his recent communication app round-up or you could use a document hosted in Google Drive.

iPad users who appreciate a handwritten approach can try Paper for free, though this might not be the most practical of solutions.


Last of all while it’s still very much a period of transition for the print industry, more magazines than ever are turning to tablets and smartphones to deliver their content. Instead of physically spending money on a piece of paper which you’ll only forget to recycle, why not grab yourself a subscription to Next Issue and read all you can for a set price per month?

Next Issue provides access to over 80 different magazines from a variety of publishers, but you could also check out Zinio too. Apple’s own Newsstand platform continues to grow, adding more publications all the time. Even if you’re feeling cheap there are a huge number of free iPad magazines to choose from.

What else can you replace with an iPhone and a few apps? What will the future bring? Let me know what you think in the comments, below.

Images: HP-35 Calculator (Seth Morabito), Cat Scan (Fingle), Old Journal (Bev Sykes), Remote Control (sm3287), Old Radio (Daniel Mies), Broken Mouse (Peter Renshaw), Alarm Clock (H is for Home), Old Telephones (Dan Brady), Post-It Note (John Haydon), Magazine (Sean Winters).

Ads by Google
Check out more about:
From the Web

14 Comments - Write a Comment


Dan Wolden

It has also replaced a physical level. I’ve used iHandy Level on my iPhoneat least 4 times in the past couple of months hanging pictures on walls and verifying the Expedit bookcase in my home office was indeed level.

Tim Brookes

You know what, I NEARLY included “Spirit Level” as a replacement, but I’m not entirely sure how “household” it is and my experience with apps has been hit and miss. The last two I tried had me moving my phone in a figure 8 trying to configure it and I couldn’t get either to work as intended, so there must be a load of interference where I live.

That or the apps I tried were crap – which do you use?



Nope. Still want magazines delivered to my house :)

Antanas Antaso

Same here :)

a computer tech

read a magazine on an iPhone? are you insane? :-) That would take me 5 times longer than doing it on a PC or just the good old fashioned paper :-) if I don’t beat the phone to death in frustration… reading any PDF on a screen that small is not something I enjoy doing, I’m age 57 and have crappy enough vision :-) I’m a computer tech and I do a lot on my iPhone but NOT that :-)

Tim Brookes

Maybe, but I assume you’re thinking about traditional paper magazines that haven’t been optimised for mobile devices! Big PDFs with text you have to drag around the screen? Yeah, thats the lazy way of doing it!

Organisations who really have their finger on the pulse when it comes to new media are skipping paper and designing for devices first. If you want to actually read a magazine on your iPhone check out The Next Web Magazine, it’s free and will scale down nicely for your device. It looks better on an iPad, but I read it on my iPhone with no difficulty. It’s not exactly flashy, but it’s a good example of “coffee table” reading material in mobile form.

You might be interested in this boatload of free iPhone/iPad magazines I wrote about a while ago too, some content producers are doing some wonderful things with the technology (others are still just exporting print projects as PDFs, something that has to change soon):

Antanas Antaso

Have you understood what ‘techguyknows’ wrote?You might have more problems than just a “crappy enough vision”…



Still no app to replace “angry notes” in office kitchen and other places where frustrated people write- often in a way that they became funny

Then we have apps that replace pets – you can feed them, talk to them and so on

Tim Brookes

If there’s one thing you can’t replace with any piece of technology it’s a pet! Well, that and a human companion.

The rest I’ll consider :)



With the exception of the diary (never had one) and the land line, we still use the rest of the items on your list in our household on a regular basis (even though we can do those things on our smart phones) and I don’t see that changing any time soon…..

Tim Brookes

Interesting! I’ve not owned an alarm clock, calculator, landline (yeah I have DSL, no phone though) or scanner for years. I’ve also not bought a physical magazine in at least 2 years. I use my smartphone plugged into a 1970s TEAC stereo amp for music and radio, and all my notes go into iCloud. For me going back to physical items wouldn’t be hard, but it would probably seem inconvenient.



Commenting on the Landline: we live in a rural area of the US that doesn’t offer cable, and satellite is not a useful or affordable option (e.g., don’t need anyone limiting how much we download). We both work online, and therefore must have Internet access. The only way for us to have access here is *to have a land line*. Surely, we can NOT be the only people in that situation?!

Seeing as we MUST have a landline, we’ve decided to forego cell phones. We neither need the added expense nor the “convenience” of being tethered to the rest of the world at all times. We grew up without them. I suppose if you grew up *with* them, being without is inconceivable, but having grown up *without* cell phones — well, you can’t miss what you never had. I take that back. We had a burner phone for a while. Really, really didn’t enjoy having that thing. We had it strictly to stay in touch with each other while when we moved.

I DESPISE phones to begin with. For me, they are strictly for business and to be avoided at all other times whenever possible. So why on earth would I want to have one on me at all times?

Tim Brookes

You might just change your mind in a few years, depending on how rural you really are. 4G networks are easier to roll out in rural areas than fiber optic Internet is, and the speed increases will potentially be 20x that of your current (presumably DSL) connection. If you could get affordable data over the airwaves by tethering a smartphone (or purchasing a 4G hotspot) then you could potentially cancel the landline, pay no line rental or ISP usage and just do all of your calling, emailing and browsing over one monthly super-fast cellular package.

This is already happening in some parts of the US, so between 4G/LTE networks and fiber optic dedicated lines, the landline will soon be a thing of the past. Skype and all the other VoIP services just make that transition easier!

Of course, I’m not saying that everyone’s going to rip up all the copper wire they can and tear down the existing infrastructure, just that a more attractive (and potentially more affordable) option might just be around the corner.


Abid Momin

NOt only magazine, news paper, mails / post etc all are taken by Iphone..:)

Your comment