8 ways to repurpose an old iPhone

Before you decide to sell your unwanted iPhone, consider finding other ways to put it to good use.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
6 min read
Watch this: 8 ways to repurpose your old phone

You can teach an old iPhone new tricks.

CC Yutaka Tsutano/Flickr

The iPhone has been around for a full 10 years now, meaning at some point you've probably upgraded to a newer model. (Possibly several newer models.) And whenever you do that, you're left with your old phone and a question: What should I do with it?

Most common answer: sell it. That's a good way to help defray the cost of the upgrade.

However, that's not the only option, and not necessarily even the best. Instead, consider repurposing that old iPhone. You might be surprised at some of the feats it can perform.

1. Keep it as a backup phone

It's a hard truth: Phones get lost, stolen and broken every day. I don't know about you, but I'd be in pretty dire straits if something happened to my phone.

The straits would be less dire, though, if I could just grab my previous-gen iPhone. I'd still have access to my calendar, contacts, iMessages and the like (because they're all synced), along with daily-use apps like Facebook, Spotify , Twitter, my password manager and so on. There's really no better short-term rescue option.

In fact, if you still have your new phone (assuming it's merely busted and not lost or stolen), you can probably just pop the SIM card out and back into the old phone, restoring voice and data until repairs are made.

Of course, you don't have to stick the old phone in a drawer and leave it there in case of disaster; you can also keep it as a low- or even no-cost second line. For example, if it's an unlocked GSM model, grab a SIM card from Freedompop (about $13) and sign up for the Basic plan. It affords you 200 voice minutes, 500 text messages and 200MB of 4G data per month -- at no charge.

For more on this idea, check out my post on how to set up a backup phone.

2. Add it to a multi-camera video shoot

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Whether you're recording a wedding, a kid's soccer game, a music video or your sure-to-win-the-film-fest indie movie, nothing beats multiple cameras. When it comes time to edit, you can mix footage from different angles and positions to create much more interesting video.

Needless to say, your old iPhone can make a great second camera. (Models dating back to the iPhone 4S could capture 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution video at 30 frames per second.) Clear out as much storage as possible to make room for new footage and you're good to go.

Even better, spend $4 (AU$6, £4) on Collabracam, an iOS app that links multiple iPhone/iPad cameras (up to six) for live multi-camera video production. It's pretty amazing. Indeed, once you start using Collabracam, I guarantee you're going to start hunting down more old iPhones to add to the mix.

3. Use it as a baby monitor

Speaking of video, an iPhone with nothing else to do can easily pull baby-monitor duty, and in fact can rival or even exceed standalone products costing a pretty penny.

All you need is Cloud Baby Monitor, a $4 (AU$6, £4) app designed expressly for this purpose. In addition to both audio and video monitoring (with alert options for both), the app can play lullabies and white noise (or even your own playlist) to help baby get back to sleep. There's a night-light option (with brightness control!), two-way audio and more.

Needless to say, you can tap into the audio/video feeds from anywhere, provided the iPhone is connected via Wi-Fi. That's a pretty solid return on a $4 investment.

4. Use it as a video doorbell

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The Canary Flex is a security camera that can withstand the outdoors.


No baby? Consider putting your iPhone on door duty instead. No, the phone itself doesn't go outside; you'll need to install either an outdoor Wi-Fi webcam or a smart doorbell. Then your phone can serve as a full-time video monitor, one that lives on, say, a coffee table or nightstand.

For example, the Canary Flex is a versatile, security-minded webcam that can go just about anywhere -- including outside. Alternately, check out video doorbells like the August Doorbell Cam, DoorBird Video Door Station, Ring Video Doorbell and SkyBell Video Doorbell.

5. Give it the GoPro treatment


Stick your old iPhone where you'd normally stick a GoPro.

Velocity Clip

One final video option: Turn your old iPhone into a GoPro. Again, that's a solid camera in there, so all you need is a way to mount it for action-video duty. Velocity Clip, for example, offers iPhone mounts for your bike, chest and head, all of them priced in the $40-50 range. Granted, an iPhone is a little unwieldy when strapped to your head, but it's still way cheaper than buying a separate GoPro.

Whatever mount option you end up with, hit up Ebay for a cheap Bluetooth camera-shutter button. (They're available for as little as $2-3.) That way you can start and stop video recording without having to fiddle with the iPhone while it's mounted.

6. Create a poor-man's Amazon Echo

If you've ever used an Amazon Echo, you know the joy of being able to say things like, "Alexa, play some Steely Dan on Spotify."

Many folks forget that iPhones have an "Alexa" as well in the form of Siri . (And in some ways, an actual iOS-based Alexa.) Thus, you can turn your old iPhone into an Echo of sorts; just leaved it plugged in someplace within earshot, then say, "Hey, Siri" to invoke a command. (If you need a refresher, here's the complete list of Siri commands to date.)

To get even closer to the Echo experience, keep that phone connected to a Bluetooth speaker . If you're an Apple Music user, Siri can serve up songs, playlists and the like (podcasts too, provided you have Apple's Podcasts app). Alas, while she can open third-party apps like Spotify for you, she can't yet make them play. The one exception is Pandora : Say, "Hey, Siri, open Pandora," and the app will start playing whatever was your last station.

7. Create a dedicated VR headset


Don't buy a VR headset that lacks lens-adjustment dials.


For the moment, Apple seems content to let Google (and, to a lesser extent, Samsung) steal the smartphone-powered VR spotlight. But you may be surprised to learn that an iPhone can serve up some terrific virtual experiences. All you need is a headset and some apps.

Even more surprising: a headset won't cost you much. Amazon, for example, offers dozens of iPhone-compatible VR goggles priced in the $20-35 range. Look for a model that lets you adjust focal width and length, the better to accommodate users with less-than-perfect vision.

As for apps, here's a roundup of the best VR apps for iPhone as well as the best VR games for iPhone.

8. Leave it on your nightstand

An old iPhone might just be the best thing to hit your nightstand since the lamp. Because in that one spot it can serve countless purposes:

Bedside clock: Disappearing Bedside Clock, $3, AU$5, £3) is an interesting choice, as the display disappears after a selected interval, but reappears when you tap the screen or wave your hand in front of it.

Alarm clock: Check out iOS 10's new alarm feature, but don't overlook third-party apps like SpeakToSnooze, which features some cool voice-control options.

Clock radio: TuneIn Radio is a good choice, as it has both alarm and sleep-timer features.

Dedicated e-reader: iBooks, Kindle, Nook, OverDrive...you don't have to limit yourself to a single app.

Meditation player: I'm partial to Buddhify, but there are a zillion others.

Spare Roku remote: Check out the latest update.

White-noise machine: I don't have a particular favorite; hit up the App Store for lots of choices.

Any other suggestions for an iPhone by the bedside? Or anywhere else, for that matter? Let's hear your ideas for reusing your leftover handset.

Editors' note: This article was originally published on January 28, 2017, and has since been updated.