Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting in a tizz about what to buy for the rest of the gaggle. In this month’s seasonal round-up we’ve selected the aps that deserve a place under anyones’ tree this Christmas.
APP OF THE MONTH: Amazon
Amazon really knows how to do its stuff. The online retailer’s iPhone app is a miniature marvel, not because it does anything particularly out of the ordinary, but because of the way it condenses the Amazon shopping experience – your account, wish lists, gift cards, the shopping basket, recommendations, reviews and more – into such a small space without ever feeling cramped.
You can search for stuff on Amazon of course, but if you’re out shopping, see an item and wonder if it’s available more cheaply online, just use the included barcode reader to find how
much Amazon sells it for – then either buy it on the spot in the shop, or order it online from Amazon; it’s brilliantly simple and means they can get you to open your wallet even when you’re on another company’s premises.
The only caveat is to make sure you sign out (and password protect your iPhone) in case some light-fingered type decides to go on a shopping spree using your account.
PRICE: £1.49 inc. VAT
The week before Christmas is usually characterised by a tense will-they-or-won’t-they-get-there-in-time? feeling, as we worry over last-minute presents sent by courier or post that are either right up against the deadline or winging their way hopefully to faraway places.
Posted is a neat, central repository for recording and tracking the details of packages sent via 116 different courier companies and postal services; it offers great coverage in the UK, US and Australia, but can also keep tabs on what international couriers are up to, along with those that operate in many European countries, as well as China, Japan and even Brazil.
Posted is simple to use – tap Add Delivery, choose a territory, then a courier, then a description of the item and its tracking number (if you don’t have this to hand and you’re sending the package, there’s a built-in barcode scanner which will read it off the parcel) and that’s it.
Posted will then push updates to the phone, telling you where your various parcels are – there’s even the option to have quiet notifications between 11.00pm and 7.00am which merely update the app’s badge. Simple, elegant and inexpensive, this is our parcel tracker of choice.
We were fans of RedLaser until it was taken over by eBay and introduced such draconian
‘you-can-only-use-this-if-you-sign-over-all-your-data’ conditions that we looked elsewhere for an app that reads conventional barcodes and the newer QR codes used by some companies, and then tells you where you can find the same item more cheaply online.
Hence Bakodo. Just load the app, tap the scan icon and position the camera over the barcode so it fits inside the red square – as soon as the app gets a clear sight it snaps the photo (storing it automatically in your history list) and then displays results from Google, Amazon and selected other retailers (not supermarkets though which makes it less useful for groceries).
You’ll need to remember to set Bakodo up for your currency and territory, but after that it works extremely well, covering a wide range of products and recording their details accurately. (Peculiarly though, the first screen of results always lists an inaccurate price in dollars – just tap through and you’ll find real results in your chosen currency).
It’s the QR codes that are the turn-on of course, because they can be used to store all sorts of
wonderful information like contacts, Google map co-ordinates, e-mail addresses and so on; but even before all that becomes widespread, this is well worth having. (Great icon too).
Gift List Budget Shopper
PRICE: £1.99 inc. VAT
A year-round app that can also be pressed into service at Christmas, Gift List allows you to build and manage lists of people, events (birthdays, baby showers, Christmas and so on) and gifts.
Gift List Budget Shopper comes with a selection pick and mix gift ideas and suggested stores in an attempt to cut down on all that keying in (you can add recipients from the phone’s contact list too), and each gift can be assigned a start and end date, price (including tax and shipping), comment, store URL and more.
Most usefully, Gift List keeps a running total of gift ideas for each individual, as well as your overall budget so you can see at a glance whether you’re being too frugal or too extravagant. If you know the type of gift you want to buy but not where to buy it, you can enter the details and then search Google, Amazon or iTunes from within the app to see if you can track it down.
Gift lists can be emailed in various formats and items ticked off as they’re purchased – usefully,
their respective purchase price stays in your overall running total until you actually delete them. It’s clearly a US-centric app and while you can add your own stores to the pre-installed lists, it’s a bit of a drag and overall, it feels a bit databasey to us in terms of the interface and terminology; nevertheless it does the job, and because you can add your own occasions, will be useful for years to come.
PRICE: £1.99 inc. VAT
There are a number of gift card apps out there (including Apple’s hilariously expensive Cards) but we’ve plumped for an old favourite in Postman, partly because it can be used throughout the year (making it good value in these troubled times), and partly because it’s such a good, simple product.
First snap a photo or choose one from the camera roll (or use a map of your current location or one of the included 20 ‘landmark’ shots – fine if you happen to be at the Taj Mahal) then add a text message and set the size, colour and font; after that, flip the card and write a message on the back, not forgetting to set the weather (snowy of course) before despatching the card via email, Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr.
So you could be stuck in a pub on Christmas Eve (God forbid!) and still get that last-second card off to an absent (but not entirely forgotten) friend. Being originally designed to send postcards, the app works best with landscape photos and it’d be nice if the developer updated the stamp on the back to say 2011, but apart from that this is everything an app should be – simple, fun and effective.
Like many shopping apps of this type, Argos can’t wait to get its sticky mitts on your personal information, and so even before the app loads it asks if it’s OK to ‘watch’ what you’re doing and gather the data. Just say ‘no’.
After that, it’ll let you locate your local branch of Argos. Set it as the preferred store and it’ll display a handy summary with map, full postal address and opening times.
There are plenty of access points – from the home screen you can browse the latest offers and price cuts or go directly to the entire catalogue (there are 25,000 items) or search for a specific product; the app’s not overly fussy about needing wifi or even a good 3G connection to work properly, either.
Items are well illustrated, carry lively customer reviews, and you can check stock availability by product code, reserve products, create shortlists (though this is a bit long-winded) and reserve items for pick up.
You can’t actually purchase from the app but you can do everything else – and given what a zoo Argos turns into as Christmas approaches, we’d recommend this and a bit of forward planning to dodge the crowds.