Article 4: Smartphones: The Digital Swiss Army Knife

Today, The Modern Nerd is going to look at one of my favorite things; what you can do to make your technology do more for you.

A word that has come into being very recently is App. Thank you, Steve Jobs. Applications have been around since the early days of computers, but now we can fit them into our pockets. Major companies are all releasing their own app, so we can stay in touch with so many different things. Banking, stocks, search engines, music, social networking, email, photos, and so much more can all be accessed from your phone.

My focus today is making connections, so let’s look at some of the specific apps that you can download to help your technologies work together. I’m going to focus on remote file access, remote controllers and remote video.

Where the *?#% is the remote?

Forget it. You officially don’t need it any more. You have a smartphone. Believe it or not, FIOS TV, DirecTV, and Xfinity TV all offer apps, for free, that will allow you to control your cablebox from your touchscreen. So if you just can’t find the remote or if you want to enact a hostile takeover of the television, here’s your tool to do it. Cable boxes aren’t the only things to get apps though. New televisions equipped with wifi are offering this same feature, allowing for a seamless transition between turning up the volume to changing the channel. If you are going all out and modernizing, Logitech offers an infrared repeater setup that interfaces with smartphones or tablets that allows for full control of all of your devices with no remotes needed at all. If all you want to do is have an extra remote for free, head over to your app store. Please note that these apps work with wifi, not with infrared. So you don’t need to point them at the TV, just have a wireless signal.

Oh crap, it’s on my computer at home…

Also in the category of remotes, let’s talk about computer remotes. There are several app suites that allow for keyboard and mouse emulation. Jumi was one of the first, but the program I run on my desktop is Splashtop. These programs connect to a server program that runs in the background on your desktop or laptop computer, and you don’t even have to be on the same local network to access your computer. You’ll need to download both the server program to your desktop and the app. The app will probably cost you in the neighborhood of five dollars. You can grab files sitting on your desktop and email them to yourself, or even run a video player or game. These apps use the processing power of your computer and export the video and audio straight to your smartphone. So there’s no more worrying if you forgot to print something or can’t access a file, just fire up your remote and send it over.

Road Trip Reinvented: Streaming your Video

Whether you have a ton of movies on your computer that you’ve made yourself or you have utilized your computer’s DVD player to make digital copies of your movie collection, movies and shows in digital format is becoming the norm. There are several premium networks that allow for movies and show to be streamed to your devices, but let’s look at how you can do it yourself using files already stored on your computer and your smartphone.

The app you want to look for is Air Video. You can set up a server program on your desktop and specify the folders you want to stream videos from. From there, finding your computer with the app will require just a few minutes of setup. You can opt to turn on the remote access option, which allows you to stream video over a data connection. This feature is still in beta, but works pretty well with a good cellular signal. The nicest feature that I have found with Air Video is their live conversion option. If you have files that are not in the correct mp4 format, you can just convert on the fly and still watch all of your media.

The only thing that you have to watch out for is the data usage, streaming large amounts of movies over your data connection can use up all of your data if you don’t have a large plan.

As of this posting, Air Video is exclusive to the Apple App Store. If you are on a Droid platform, then you can still steam movies out to your phone, but you’ll first need to convert them to the proper format. There are several good converter programs online, but if you really want a good one you’ll end up paying around twenty dollars.

And so much more…

I can really only scratch the surface of what is possible to do with a smartphone in just one entry, but these are several cool features that can add a large bit of functionality to your device. Even if you can’t stream lots of data over cellular, using wifi is a great way to add the full functionality of a laptop without having to carry the laptop around with you. The neatest thing about apps becoming commonplace is our ability to do anything with them, so I hope I’ve given you a few more ideas to think about. Good luck guys, hope you enjoyed.

 

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer
www.thecomputerfixer.com
aaron.krick@gmail.com

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