31 things you never thought you could do with an imaging device

Ashish Bhatia | Print Edition: September 2012

 The camera can now be a scanner, organiser, navigator, tutor and much more. of course, with a bit of help from apps.


You drive into the multi-level parking lot of a mall. Running late for a movie, or tripping over yourself to catch the last day of a sale, or even gabbing away with friends, you lock your car and dash off to the lift. In your hurry you've failed to note where you've parked your car! The consequence: Confusion galore when you finish shopping and come looking for your vehicle. The easiest remedy is to quickly click a picture of the parking lot number with your smartphone, even as you are walking past it.

Now what happens if there are no parking lot numbers? Or you're parking on a busy, crowded street that you are not at all familiar with? Walk a short distance away and snap a shot of your car with your cell phone. Just ensure that you include some of the surrounding area in the photo. That is, some shop signboards, nameplates or minor landmarks like a building, or even an electric pole or tree alongside. This will help you identify the vicinity in which you car is parked a lot more easily.

Taking food or travel or architecture or any type of field notes? You can easily combine your photos on a smartphone or iPad with free applications like Evernote or Skitch. Evernote lets you add voice and formatted text notes with your pictures and then organise all the notes related to a particular genre with tags for easy lookup. And Skitch lets you annotate the pictures themselves. Skitch is also great for annotating screenshots.

Your bags are packed and you're ready to go. Taking a jet plane or not, make it a point to click a picture of each individual luggage piece. This will not only help airport staff identify your luggage far more easily and speed up the search in case of an untoward incident of lost bags but also help with your baggage insurance claim if they can't be found. If you're a bit of a scatterbrain, it isn't a bad idea to take a pictures of your baggage claim tags too as a precaution. Won't take more than a few secs to click them and the images can be deleted even more easily.

Likewise, if you've either borrowed a vehicle, are riding with someone else but will be going separate ways for some time only to meet up later at the parking point, or need to remember a taxi cab number, use your imaging device to capture the number plate. If you're renting a car abroad, it makes sense to photograph any scratches and dents on the hired vehicle before taking it from the agency. You can then disprove anyfalse claims levied against you on returning the vehicle.

If you've visited non-English speaking countries-especially China-you'll know how impossible it is to communicate something as simple as the name and address of your hotel to a taxi driver. To prevent being stranded in the middle of nowhere, take a document shot of your hotel name and address with your phone camera and show it the cabbie to ease communication. Yes, you can always carry a hotel card in your pocket. But, unlike a phone, the likelihood of your misplacing the card or forgetting to keep it on your person every day are manifold. Similarly, this will also help you get local train, bus and even walking direction assistance.

Have you ever been in a "Oh, no! I've forgotten my room number!" situation? And lost the hotel swipe key cardholder that had your room number written on it? You can always trudge back to the reception and go through the (often slightly embarrassing) rigmarole of asking for it. But why not make it as easy as pie by snapping a picture of your room door/number as your enter/exit it the first time. Now, if the digits of your temporary abode slips your memory, you merely need to take a peek at the photo.

Bored of your Canon point-and-shoot camera and now lusting for more DSLR-like features? You can easily supercharge its prowess with the Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK). A free download (http://is.gd/bfT4dq), this completely reversible upgrade gives your P&S the ability to shoot in RAW format, higher and longer shutter speeds along with a host of overides, interface improvements video features and apps. But you need to know your camera's model and firmware version to determine the correct CHDK file to deploy.

If you have an old web camera gathering dust in a cupboard, you can easily put it to good use as a live security camera. All you need is a free applications like iSpy (www.ispyconnect.com) or WebcamXP (www.webcamxp.com). iSpy, for example, uses your webcams and microphones to detect and record movement or sound and provides security, surveillance, monitoring and alerting services. iSpy is free but remote access and email alerts require a web services subscription. The free version of user friendly WebCamXP unfortunately doesn't have the ability to alert you when it detects motion.

Now if you want to see what your security webcam at home is capturing even when you are on the move, set up iCam ($5, http://skjm.com/icam). This works beautifully with any webcam to beam you an ongoing video stream from your iPhone, Android phone, or even a web browser. And believe it or not, it will even send your phone a push notification when it detects motion. It then takes a number of snaps so you can espy the moving object.

Buying some clothing, or a watch, or whatever for yourself-or as a gift-and perched on the horns of a dilemma because of the infinite variety? Click pictures of the final few and WhatsApp/ BBM/ mail them to someone appropriate who will help you make the right purchase decision.

Believe it or not, that camera lurking at the back of your iPad can be put to superb use for documenting stuff. Especially when it comes to keeping records of documents and notes. If you haven't noticed it yourself, let us point out that your tablet's expansive screen makes for an excellent viewer while you're taking pictures. And this ensures that you know right away if what you clicked it is sharp, lucid and readable- a factor of vital importance when it comes to images of documents.

Going further, you can even set up a free Evernote and/or Dropbox account and upload images of your important documents right off your smartphone or tablet. In fact, you should shoot photos of every critical document-right from your driving license, passport, visas, PAN card, identity card, ration card, vehicle papers, insurance documents, etc.- and upload them to one of these online storage sites for the rainy day. Not only will they stay secure, but you will also be able to print out a copy whenever required. Also, you will have all the information available to you for ready reference any time and anywhere.

Driving or walking through a market you suddenly come across a shop that you have been looking for. Or find interesting enough to explore. But at the moment you are in a pelter and don't have the time to go in. What is the easiest way to find it again? Yeah, you got it! Fish out your camera and click a picture of the shop's signboard. It is more than likely that you'll also acquire the shop number and it's phone contact details in the snap.

If need to mail some important documents out and don't have a scanner or fax around, you don't have to fret and scout around for a friendly neighbourhood imaging centre. All you need is a decent camera, smartphone or tablet. Simply take clean and legible close-up images of the document- and then mail them across pronto.

The name says it all. If you find it difficult to read small print on medicine bottles or instructions, you can use your phone along with a free magnifying app like Magnifier (iPhone) or Ultra Magnifier+ (Android) to increae the size of the text and make it readable. To top this, some of these apps also deploy the camera flash as a reading light. No, you won't be able to burn holes in carbon paper with this magnifying lens. But people suffering from presbyopia (inability to focus on objects up close) or late adult onset myopia can use this feature to great benefit.

You're familiar with text search. You've heard of (or tried) voice search. Now it's time for visual search! You don't need to type or utter anything here, you simply point your smartphone or tablet at a building, restaurant, or shop, etc.- or click a picture with it. The phone then fetches the appropriate associated information from the Internet. The info could be descriptions, shopping deals, Wikipedia entries or reviews related to the targetted subject. Or gathering info off a business card by merely getting your phone to see it! Cool, yes? Well, that's Augmented Reality. Popular AR programs on smartphones and tablets include Layar, Wikitude, Google Goggles and Junaio. But there are loads of excellent ones that could be more specific to your interests. These include Star Chart (astronomy), Peaks (mountains), ARSoccer (football) and Theodolite (navigation and hiking).

You can also use the ubiquitous camera phone to record instructions for setting up a new device, or assembling a household item during a demo. Or even how to execute a specific yoga posture, for that matter.

Could you ever imagine that your iPhone or iPad could help you with the threads you wear? No laughing matter this, if your closet is overflowing with clothes and you have a tough time remembering and pairing your outfits. You should download an app like Closet, Wardrobe Assistant, or My Fashion Closet. After you've clicked pictures of your raiments and saved them on the shelves of these apps, they help you categorise and organise your wardrobe. You can mix and match garments on the device and see how the ensemble would look before actually trying them out. You can share images with friends, draw up wishlists, and much more.

Attending a public event like a conference, seminar or a party means meeting a lot of new faces. Remembering most of them-along with their names-is a challenge for a majority of us. A free phone app like Evernote Hello (Android and iOS) can remedy this to an extent. It allows you to click a picture of the person you are meeting and then you can pass the phone to him or her to enter their contact information. You can also keep notes about your encounters and meetings with the person in the app if you want. At the very least you won't have to shuffle uncomfortably the next time you come across the person.

Exploring the bylanes of an unfamiliar town without a map and scared of getting lost? No, you don't have your phone's GPS. Because for one, not too many want to use it anyway. And two, if you're in foreign lands, using one can prove to be prohibitively expensive. A simpler solution is to keep clicking pictures of landmarks and distinct features at turns and along the way to serve as memory aides with your camera. So you can refer to them and retrace your steps. Plus, the images may also turn out to be a nice sequential documentary of your explorations.

That camera in your cell phone is not meant only for recording special occasions or interesting events alone. You should learn to use it with abandon for mundane, day-to-day things as well. So next time mum (or a friend, or a restaurant masalchi, or Nigella Lawson) is making the secret sauce behind their rajma/rosemary potatoes recipe, just pop out your phone and videograph the entire sequence. Right down from the ingredients to the entire process, you'll be able to capture it all. And then have it readily available when you need it- quite unlike the hastily-jotted (but long-lost) recipe on a scrap of paper.

No matter how many or how easy note-taking apps get, nothing can replace the ease of use and simplicity of a pencil and paper when it comes to quickly scribbling down something. Yet, important phone numbers, addresses and any exigent jottings on scraps of paper-or entire notebooks-have this uncanny ability to disappear when most required and then miraculously reappear when you don't need them. So next time after you have scrawled the notes and numbers you want, remember to snap a picture or two of them with your phone. You can then be assured having the info at hand whenever required.

Suffering from myopia (or shortsightedness where you can't see very well beyond your immediate surroundings) and often end up misplacing your spectacles? A natty solution to this lies in your iPad or Android tablet-especially when you wake up groggy and disoriented. Of course, your tablet (or even large-screen smartphone) must be close at hand at the time. Click a few snapshots of your surroundings and pinch zoom in and out of the images to spot where your specs are lying. You'll be surprised at how clear and up close your blurry surroundings can become with this. Surely it is infinitely better then groping around blindly and stubbing your toes with the furniture in the bargain!

Talking of contacts, what's the easiest way of keeping track of your ever growing stock of contacts and that stack of their business cards? Go and download a card reader and scanner app like CamCard (iOS). With an app like this all you need to do is take a picture of a business card. The app scans it and saves the contact information the iPhone Address Book under the appropriate heads (name, phone numbers, mail, etc.) as well as keeps an image of the card for reference in case the optical character recognition has made a boo-boo somewhere. You don't need to bother about filing the actual business card after this.

Need to top-up your phone or data prepaid packs and hate bumbling around with entering your credit/debit card details on various sites? Try a payment app like Paytm. Available for iOS and Android platforms, the fairly uncomplicated app makes the data entry process easier by letting you click a photo of your card with your phone. The required details are filled in automatically via optical character recognition. And you're good to go for a recharge-right then and there! The service works with all Indian mobile services providers from Airtel and Vodafone to Reliance, MTNL, MTS, Tata and others.

If you desperately need to get a handle on your credit card expenses, say "CHEESE" because your smartphone's camera can lend an able hand. Grab the free Lemon app (for Android, iOS and Windows) right now. It converts your mobile into a smart digital wallet-a wallet that stores and organises your cards, yes. The icing on this cake is it also stores and organises your payment receipts under each card for you to easily keep an eye on. Apart from assisting in tracking your expenses, this also helps you manage your money. Besides, if your cards are stolen or misplaced, you will always be able to refer to the app instantly for the required nitty gritty.

Smartphone and tablet cameras are getting better and better and optical character recognition apps for mobile devices are available all around. So why not employ these effortless image-to-text conversion techniques to do some data entry for us. No, you cannot expect 100 per cent accuracy in what you get. But these apps sure do thump onscreen finger-tapping on the tedium and time-taken front.

You can even use your phone camera as a quickie reminder tool. See a book you like? Don't have the time to-or feeling too lazy-to write down the name of it's title and author? Take a picture of it. Ditto for dadiji's dawai or mummyji's masala box. When required, you can so very easily look up the required item on your omnipresent phone and then delete the image.

Maybe you've thought of this and maybe you haven't. Portable imaging devices are very handy tools for keeping track of your expenditure. How so, you might ask? The easiest way to record an expenditure is to take a picture of the receipt in document mode with your camera phone. So now even if you lose the receipt, you have a copy of it securely embedded in your phone. In fact, several accounting and finance smartphone apps let you organise and stack these payment receipts images, making it a very handy way to file office expense accounts and reimbursements.

One of the best uses of your tablet's camera is to take pictures of whiteboards scribbles, charts and slides during meetings, seminars and training session. The large screen display makes for convenient reference at any point later. In addition, you can also make your own notes on top of these. Further, you can pair this with an iPad app like Notability. This note taking app integrates with media insertion as well as handwritten notes.

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