How to put your old iPhone to use after you bought the new iPhone XS

in iPhone edited September 2018
Whether it's last year's iPhone X or a digital antique, that once-cherished device can have an entirely new life. AppleInsider shows just how that phone could still be immensely useful.

Using an iPhone as a security camera

Okay, we probably wouldn't be responsible adults if we didn't mention that you can give your old iPhone to your kids or a charity. We definitely wouldn't be fiscally sensible if we failed to point out that you can get a little trade-in value on your old device. Now that's out of the way, though, here's how you can make that phone do a brand new job just for you.

Actually, make that many, many new jobs. Each of which is free, comes with a subscription you use elsewhere, or is extremely low cost.

This is a computer you've got here, this is a miracle of technology and the only difference between your old iPhone and your new is that one has a SIM card in it. There are limits: the older the phone, the harder it is to get software that runs on it. So you need to know both what iOS version an app needs and what the latest iOS is that you can run on your phone.

Phones back as far as the iPhone 6 can run the current iOS 12 but older ones can't. As a guide, the latest that the iPhone 5 can run is iOS 10.3.3, while the iPhone 4's ceiling is iOS 7.1.2. If you've still got an iPhone 3GS then it's running no better than iOS 6.1.6 and it might be troublesome to get software for it, but not impossible.

If you are used to shoving all your old iPhones into storage, though, try popping one in your window instead.

Using Presence as a security video camera in iPhone

Security camera

You can now buy extensive and expensive home security systems that will let you setup multiple cameras. Those cameras stream over the internet so wherever you are, you can check to see what they're seeing. Or if you go a little fancier, a little more upmarket, you can have audio as well as video.

You can have motion detection so that the camera switches on when someone comes to your door. Or you could just use your old iPhone.

Low res video footage from an iPhone being used as a security camera

It's not going to be feature-film video quality but for a security system -- and for free -- this is more than enough to give you some peace of mind while you're away. Presence is a free-to-try app one that you install on both your old iPhone and another device like your new iPhone or your Mac.

When they're both on and both logged into a Presence account, you've got a security system.

Presence is really the start of a security system. You can pay $2 to upgrade to a higher-quality video or $49.99 for an annual subscription to a service that offers longer recordings and storage. Presence: Video Security requires iOS 6.0 or later.

The company also sells motion sensors, smart plugs and entire security systems. You may well get tempted further into Presence's products, but the free app running on your old iPhone is a steal.

Just keep in mind that iPhone batteries don't last long even on new devices so your ancient one isn't going to hold a charge while you go off on a European tour. You need to run a Lightning cable to the mains.

That's true for anything where you want to be certain the iPhone stays on continuously, or at least for many hours, such as a baby monitor. Maybe it seems like your child doesn't ever sleep for many hours. Maybe you'd gladly trade places with him or her, but at least this way you won't risk waking them by going to check.

There are dozen or more baby monitor apps for iOS: this one, Baby Monitor 3G, also has an Apple TV app. It requires iOS 9.0 or later.

Change the channel

Naturally you never tire of watching your kids but if by some miracle you should ever want to switch away from them too, say, Netflix, you can.

You know you can do this now on your iPhone: you can do it exactly as well and in exactly the same way on your old iPhone too. Netflix, YouTube and at least most if not all broadcasters' streaming services will let you watch on your old iPhone.

At least, they will so long as you're on Wi-Fi. This is where an old iPhone without its SIM card is effectively an iPod touch. It's a video player and as long as you have it signed in to your Apple ID, everything but calls will work.

The film Arrival playing on Plex in iPhone

If you're going to be watching video, though, give Plex a try too. This is an app and a service that lets you stream just about any video on your Mac to any Apple device.

When you've accrued years of ripped DVDs and iTunes won't play the format they're in, Plex is a treat. Not only does it let you watch the videos in many places but it fetches metadata from the internet. So you may have forgotten ever ripping your old DVD of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea but Plex will recognize it and display the poster.

If you're on the same Wi-Fi network as your Mac, Plex is free. To use it away from home, you can subscribe for extra features for $39.99 per year or buy a one-time upgrade to your iPhone's Plex app for $4.99. It requires iOS 9.3 or later.


If a SIM-less iPhone is like an iPod touch, then it follows that you can load it up with music. Just plug it into iTunes on your Mac and select what albums and tracks you want to store on it.

Apple Music playing Tanita Tikaram on a kitchen chopping board

Only, you can't remember the last time you had to make a selection like that because you're an Apple Music subscriber. Strictly speaking, you're paying for an Apple ID to be subscribed -- and there's no reason you can't listen on your old iPhone as well as your new.

So plug it into the mains in your kitchen, your bedroom or your office and listen to music all day. It won't be as good as having a HomePod but at least it's better than with your current phone which stops playing music every time you get a spam call.

Alternatively, forget music and listen to podcasts instead, such as this one.

Read in bed

Leave your new iPhone charging wirelessly on its Qi pad by your desk and take your old phone with you to bed. Switch off notifications and relax with some reading.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice on Apple Books on iPhone

You can of course go for books through Apple's Book store or Amazon's Kindle. Kindle now needs iOS 10 or later and so does Apple Books.

However, you can also read Apple News on your iPhone if you want to keep awake all night. Or maybe read some articles that you've been meaning to catch up on: both Pocket and Instapaper are excellent read-it-later services.

Pocket needs iOS 9.0 or later while both Instapaper and Apple News depend on iOS 10 or greater. All three are free but Instapaper and Pocket offer paid premium versions.

Speaking of bed

As much as we love and cherish our Apple Watches, their Nightstand feature is worthless. If we're going to have a clock by the bed, we want to be able to see it -- not to have to lean over and tap.

True, you can tap the actual Watch or just anywhere near it as vibration is enough to make it light up its Nightstand time face. So you can blearily do it, you don't have to be precise.

Yet with a spare iPhone you can do much more. This doesn't have to be by your bed, either, it can be a clock on your desk.

The app Disappearing Bedtime Clock being used as a desk clock on iPhone

Wherever it is, apps such as Disappearing Bedtime Clock are more adaptable and more functional than Apple Watch Nightstand. There are countless clocks on the App Store but by default, this one shows you a digital time display and then fades gently out.

So far, that sounds exactly like Nightstand. However, you can wave your hand in front of the phone to revive it. Or you can just tell it to stay on all night and when that's too bright for you at 3am, you can swipe down to reduce the brightness.

Disappearing Bedtime Clock requires iOS 11 or later and costs $2.99 on the App Store.

Old hardware

We've talked about iPhones here but that's really because we're all looking for ways to justify spending money on the new iPhone XR, XS or especially XS Max. Everything applies equally to old iPads too.

Really it applies to everything. If you've got a new Apple TV, for instance, your old one works very nicely when you're traveling. So chuck that in your luggage instead of the desk drawer.

You could get some money for trading these all in and if you pick your moment well, you might even get a decent amount. Yet you've already invested a lot of cash in these devices and they are far from finished yet.

Get your money's worth and exploit the technology to bring new life and new purpose to your old iPhone.

Emergency calls still work, and this is good and bad

Even without service, and the SIM removed, an old iPhone can still be used to make a call to emergency responders. This is good, as any device with a charge can summon help in an emergency, but bad if you hand it to a child to use as an iPod touch.

So, if you do the latter, just watch the tot. Otherwise, you might get an unexpected visit from the fire department or the police.

Still want to trade?

Perhaps you have several used devices lying around and you'd like to free up some cash after all. With trade-in bonuses at buyback providers, such as BuyBackWorld and MyPhones Unlimited, you can get $20 more over the trade-in values quoted on each site. We've outlined how to take advantage of the special offers and get the most for your trade in our iPhone trade-in guide.

Keep up with AppleInsider by downloading the AppleInsider app for iOS, and follow us on YouTube, Twitter @appleinsider and Facebook for live, late-breaking coverage. You can also check out our official Instagram account for exclusive photos.


  • Reply 1 of 9
    I almost always used my old phone as an upgrade to my dash cam (then recycle the previous one). I have doing Dash Cam since 2010 with my iPhone 4. I have been recording to prove whom are the worst drivers in the DC area. I haven't post my videos on YouTube yet (don't have time to compile), but year in year out, it has been Virginia Drivers.....
  • Reply 2 of 9
    ajlajl Posts: 107member
    Phones back as far as the iPhone 6 can run the current iOS 12 but older ones can't.

    What about iPhone 5s?

  • Reply 3 of 9
    anomeanome Posts: 1,279member

    I generally keep my previous phone to run the iOS Public Betas on, and pretty much use as a media tablet around the home. Except this year, I may have to hand down my iPhone 7 to someone else who currently has a 6S but can't afford a new one.

    That's assuming Telstra gets their act together and actually sends me my new XS.

  • Reply 4 of 9
    I have been using my iPhone 4 as an iPod for years now. It was the new “norm” of bloated websites that got me to buy an iPhone 6s. I avoided installing iOS 7 on my iPhone 4 and hopefully never will, but its Safari and CPU/RAM couldn’t handle the bloated scripting on current websites (which is bad enough to slow down current machines with way more RAM and CPU capability).

    I had already given my original iPhone (as in, the first model) to my companion to use instead of a basic phone. She has only just recently upgraded to an iPhone 7(?) because of cellular support for the original model ending. That first iPhone saw continual use from day one until half a year ago. It survived accidents, active abuse, and even a trip through the laundry (with minimal screen functionality lost at the top edge). They literally don’t make ‘em like they used to. 
  • Reply 5 of 9
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,099member
    Great article for those of us who believe older iOS devices have much more residual utility value than the meager trade-in numbers reflect. One additional use case for older iOS (and other older computers with screens) is to use them as a Remote Desktop client for Windows 10 computers. The RDP protocol is so much faster than any VNC implementation so even an original iPad Mini with a Bluetooth keyboard is very responsive to use as a remote client.
  • Reply 6 of 9
    Another use is to keep it as a spare.
    Last year I had an iPhone 5 that I had been using as an iPod touch for music.   But, at the end of the summer my friend's iPhone 6 was stolen.   I loaned her the iPhone 5 until the iPhone 8's came out (rather than her buying a soon to be year old phone at full price) and it all worked out.

    And also, that is one other reason to buy your phones from Apple so they can work on any carrier.  In this case, the iPhone 5 had been attached to GSM AT&T but my friend used it with CDMA Verizon with no trouble.
  • Reply 7 of 9
    In Europe/Germany old iPhones (even unsupported models, and Apple Hardware in general) sell surprisingly well...
  • Reply 8 of 9
    If you use LMS (Logitech Media Server), you can use iPeng to listen or control other players. Good stuff ...
  • Reply 9 of 9
    anomeanome Posts: 1,279member
    Another use is to keep it as a spare.
    Last year I had an iPhone 5 that I had been using as an iPod touch for music.   But, at the end of the summer my friend's iPhone 6 was stolen.   I loaned her the iPhone 5 until the iPhone 8's came out (rather than her buying a soon to be year old phone at full price) and it all worked out.

    And also, that is one other reason to buy your phones from Apple so they can work on any carrier.  In this case, the iPhone 5 had been attached to GSM AT&T but my friend used it with CDMA Verizon with no trouble.

    Yeah, I had a friend who managed to leave his iPhone at home while visiting Australia last month. After trying a cheap Android for a few days (he was not a fan), I lent him my old iPhone 6, which had the Public Beta of iOS 12 on it. The only problem was getting it back as I wasn't able to meet him at the airport when he was leaving. (It got left with a mutual friend, who I finally got round to getting it back from earlier this week. Social Anxiety sucks.)

    We later found out the problem he'd been having with his Apple Watch was because it was in theatre mode, which he didn't even know was a thing. But that's a whole other story.

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