Second Career: Putting retired iPhones back to work

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I save soap. When I travel, I do not rip-off hotel towels, coffee cups or blankets. That would be wrong. However, I do collect little bars of soap. I generally find one bar at the hotel room sink and another on the side of the tub. I unwrap one to use, and then put the other in my luggage. Before the maid comes by the next day, I surreptitiously slip the moist and somewhat diminished bar into a plastic doggy bag and stash it in a drawer. When I return to my room, I find two brand new cakes of soap waiting for me. It is almost magical! I pack the new pair in my luggage and bring out the wet one. Repeat ad infinitum. By the end of every trip, I have a healthy supply of pristine soap for use at home. Never waste a resource.

I like to save money, too. I have chosen to live rather frugally, so that I can then purchase really good toys. I'm a serious geek. I hoard all unexpended funds and wait until the best-ever gadget comes along. My maxim is simple: Wallets and bladders should be emptied when full. When Apple announces a new product, or when I read of a new keyboard or headset on AppleVis, out comes my debit card and I go for it. Over these many years, I could have populated a small museum of aging, and formerly much appreciated, technology. Even so, unlike my cache of acquired soap, I seldom revisit and use my retired electronics.

Last September, my wife and I abandoned our identical 5S iPhones for the new 6S and 6S Plus. Our forgotten twin two-year-olds were locked away in my desk drawer where they prematurely cooled to room temperature. They might have been forever held without charges had I not suffered a twinge of envy. My wife has an iPhone 6S, and iPad, and iPad Pro, and an Apple Pencil. I have my 6S Plus and, well, a new pair of slippers. I am amazed at how she uses all her devices for different tasks, taking superb advantage of their various capabilities. I love my 6S Plus and the incredible power it puts into my pocket, but I craved additional tools. I wanted more than just warm feet.

I could care less about large amounts of useless screen real estate. I like small. I simply desired more goodies with raw power. And -- flash of awareness -- I could do this on the cheap! I reached into my desk, determined to give the retired 5S iPhones new life.

Now, other than the joy of trying to keep all three devices charged, synchronized and up to date, what could I do with multiple iPhones? Well, I could listen to my audio books on all three phones. I could read the news on all three phones. I could enjoy podcasts on all three phones. Heck, I could do this on ten phones, or twenty! But, that sounded kind of stupid. I could also do everything on my one iPhone 6S Plus and only worry about maintaining and keeping track of a single device.

Still, a man requires more than slippers to satisfy his primal needs. A friend suggested that my older iPhones might be used to manage indoor lights, air conditioning and a Wi-Fi door bell. My approach was less ambitious. I knew what to do. One antique phone could serve as the hub of my living room sound system. I would sleep with the other.

Managing music while working in my living room is a pain with only one phone. I wear EarPods while I work, and I can enjoy Apple Music through them, but it is hard to listen to tunes and spoken text at the same time. If I connect my iPhone to my Bluetooth UEBoom speakers on the fireplace mantle, I have VoiceOver yelling at me from across the room. Not ideal. If I get a call, the music stops. If I step outside for a quick break with my guide dog, I may walk back into the house listening to my speakers stutter in their attempt to reconnect. However, by designating an old iPhone as the heart of my home audio network, and leaving it on the glass table next to my comfy chair, I can keep music going all day without interruption. Sweet.

I added spice to my nights. For the better part of a decade, I had been taking an old American Printing House for the Blind Book Port to bed with me. I loved that device. I'd hide a pack of Double-A batteries in the nightstand to keep it powered up, and I would regularly download old radio shows to its memory card. I went to sleep every night with Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Sergeant Joe Friday. Unfortunately, my aging Book Port utilized an antiquated DOS file structure, and it required a desktop computer and cable for file transfers and updates. It made me feel old. Now, I have my other 5S iPhone, resting gently next to my pillow, lulling me to sleep at night. And, with the new features in Voice Dream Reader 4.0.2, I can load up my sleepy-time iPhone with new audio files from anywhere through my iPhone 6S Plus. Granted, not everyone goes to bed with an old phone, but it works for me.

My iPhone 6S Plus remains the center of my digital universe. I am ever cognizant of how fortunate I am to be connected to the world in so many ways through this very special technology. Even so, the revitalization of my two retired 5S iPhones has really enhanced my days and nights. Whether it is hotel soap or old iPhones, I like to fully utilize my resources. I enjoy putting my tiny soaps to productive use in our kitchen and bathrooms. They don't survive long in water, but they are fun while they last. My iPhones are much the same. Small, fun while they last, and adverse to water. This I learned. I used to have an iPhone 4S. My brother has a pool.

G. Morgan Watkins enjoyed a long working relationship with both The University of Texas at Austin and Guide Dogs for the Blind. He is now happily retired, pondering what new technology might eventually replace him. Morgan has written seven other blogs for AppleVis, including "Dancing In Sand: Ferrite Audio Editing on the iPhone,", "Small Differences Matter: Cleaning up with FileBrowser and the Dropbox App," and "Big Is The New Small: A Love Story."

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Submitted by Chris on Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This is a great way to reuse those old devices. I don't consider the 5S to be all that old, considering it's still my primary smart phone. Still, I'm glad you've found a way to put these devices to good use and avoid planned obsolescence. Then again, I wonder if the 64 bit processors will outlast the older devices in terms of support? I guess only time will tell. Still, I haven't found a compelling reason to upgrade my phone. I think the 3D Touch is a gimmick, and I'm not sure how useful Apple Pay is. Just as a final thought, what should I do with my old iPhone 4 stuck on iOS 7.1.2? It's just sitting in my desk drawer and has been crippled by iOS 7 to the point that it's almost useless and very sluggish. It's a shame that the phone is less than 6 years old and has already been deemed obsolete.

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team


Thanks for your note. I'm glad you enjoyed the blog.

The iPhone 5S is still a very useful phone, but I have no regrets with my move to the iPhone 6S Plus. I dearly love the battery life and I no longer feel like I have an umbilicus to the electrical outlet. That alone has been wonderful.

3D Touch may not be for everyone, but I use it all the time. For the most part, I use it only when launching apps as that will bring up quick entry points into many apps. Now that my iPhone 5S systems are humming again, I do find myself pushing on their screens to no effect.

Like you, I have some old iPods and iPhones that are sitting cold in my desk. Outside of recycling, it is difficult to know what might be done with them. I won't throw mine away as they are pleasant tactile reminders of how far we've come. Still, I suspect your old phone is in better shape than my 4S that went swimming...

Take care,


Submitted by Gus Pacleb on Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I have a 5s that I would like to continue to use without an activated number. Everything works fine, except for getting messages and face timeing people. Whenever I try to activate either of these features, the phone gives me a waiting for activation error message. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Submitted by Shelly Brisbin on Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Great article. My ex-iPhones are in high demand among younger members of my family, so I can't repurpose them for at-home tasks, I am (the one?) happy iPod Touch owner, however. I tote the little guy around the house, listening to podcasts and books, controlling the Sonos, and peering in on notifications from there, when they arrive on my iPhone 6. I use my Touch pretty much the way Apple Watch owners user their wearable. This habit is so ingrained that when I travel, the Touch still provides my audio soundtrack, freeing the phone for navigating and executive text messaging.

Submitted by Seanoevil on Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hi Morgan,

I just wanted to compliment you on a well written, highly engaging Blog.

As a fellow soap thief, I know only too well the elicit thrill of checking out of a Hotel with a carry on bag stuffed full of mini soaps and travel shampoo's. Talk about making a clean getaway...

Best regards,


Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Seanoevil,

It starts out innocent enough...

Thanks for making me smile,


Submitted by Troy on Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I still use my 5s. My next upgrade is going to be the SE because I just want to stick with the same screen size because it doesn't matter to me.

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hello Morgan:

I just knew that it had to be your creative writing at work, when I first read the title of the article. I so enjoy your blog posts. Please keep them coming. They are informative, thought-provoking, and sometimes very funny, too.

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Roxann,

What a treat! Thank you for the note. I'm glad you have enjoyed the blogs. I sure have enjoyed writing them.

Wonderful hearing from you,