Trying to cut back on technology is never easy, especially when it seems like there’s a new must-have piece of technology just about every other week. So before you invest in something new, consider whether you can make do with what you already have. Here are five ways you can stretch your existing technology.
Use voice over Internet protocol to save mobile minutes. How about making free or nearly free calls? There are even options for making calls at rates that are far more affordable than those offered by your existing mobile carrier. Smartphone apps can transform your handset into a VoIP device, so you can make calls at prices comparable to traditional computer VoIP calls. The downside, however, is that some applications and handsets require you to be at an Internet hot spot to make the calls. So while you might not be tethered to a desktop PC to chat with a faraway colleague, you could find yourself virtually tethered to the Wi-Fi signal in your home office.
Many handsets already offer seamless Wi-Fi calling, with an option to switch to the traditional cell service so you can still do some roaming. So if you’re going to stop in at a coffee shop to fuel up on caffeine, you can start the call using Wi-Fi or VoIP and then switch to cell mode when you need to get going.
Some of these services do require a data service plan (something most smartphone users already pay for), but the trade-off is the ability to make international calls for the cost of using the mobile Web. The elephant in this space is Skype, with VoIP apps for the BlackBerry, iPhone, and Android smartphones. Another option is Fring, a free application that allows for free calls to other Fring users, as well as low-cost calls to landlines and mobile phones. It also allows instant messaging with services such as Skype, MSN, ICQ, Google Talk, SIP, Twitter, AIM, and Yahoo!.
Use the camera on your phone for more than pictures. Since even the most basic phones have built-in digital cameras, there are things to do beyond just sending mobile messages to your friends. The Qipit service transforms a camera phone into a portable scanner, letting you snap a photo to print out later via the Web site. On the flip side you can scan an actual document and fax it to a number for retrieval and read-back on your mobile phone with scanR.
There’s also barcode reader technology, which can help you when it’s time to make a technology purchase. There are several smartphone apps that enable this, allowing users to scan a barcode at the store and instantly do an online price comparison. Aside from traditional barcodes, 2-D barcodes (think digital camouflage, not vertical lines) have become a new trend in marketing, allowing cell phone owners to scan a barcode and get more information about a product or service. These barcodes are even making their way onto business cards.
Use mobile chat instead of texting. Kids love texting, but for most business users this functionality can add up quickly. An alternative to consider is IM services for mobile smartphones. These services let you send a text message — that can also go to a PC user — through the Internet rather than phone service. AIM and Google Talk are free for users, but do require a data plan. Still, for mobile travelers, a data plan is probably preferable to a texting plan.
Take charge of your power. It isn’t news that energy costs are rising. One way to cut costs is to power down devices that aren’t being used. If you have a power strip, plug multiple devices into the single strip and flip the power switch to easily shut down at the end of the day. Even better, so-called Smart Strips can detect when a device, such as the office TV, is not in use and completely power it and accompanying devices down. There is also an “always-on” option that lets cable boxes and printers continue to operate even if the power strip has been shut down.
Power strips also act as surge protectors and can save devices from a sudden jolt of electricity, such as during a thunderstorm. Not having to replace an expensive electronic device is as good as money in the bank.
Meet up digitally. Is that business trip really necessary? That’s a question that has probably been asked before the days of jetsetters, but now it’s more important than ever. If the answer is anything but “absolutely,” then consider whether a videoconference call, meeting online, or other method of communication with clients or colleagues can be a sufficient substitute. Some companies are using virtual worlds, such as Second Life, to hold meetings, while videoconferencing is almost as good as being there. If you’re a Mac user, you can conduct video chats through the iChat application for free. Google, Skype, AOL, and Yahoo! also offer their own chatting services free of charge.
Not only are these services complimentary — and you may already have them installed –but they also allow you to be more productive by staying in the office rather than getting stuck in an airport.