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Holiday shopping apps for iPhone

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Christmas Shopping List

  • Generic Company Place Holder Santa's Little Helper

‘Tis the season to shop, go further into hock, and take advantage of holiday sales. Not necessarily in that order. This time last year, I tried seven Christmas shopping list management apps for the iPhone and iPod touch. Of those, three stood out: Matthew Campbell’s Pocket Santa, Better Day Wireless’s Christmas List, and Andrew Grant’s Better Christmas List. Amid the myriad Christmas shopping-themed applications to arrive in 2009, here are two more worth considering.

Jeremie Welden’s Santa’s Little Helper is in roughly the same vein as Pocket Santa. The app lets you organize your gift purchases by person, group, store and gift type. The interface allows you to easily budget your gift giving, and keep a close eye on who gets what and how much. And, as is generally the case with apps of this kind, it has a countdown showing how many shopping days are left until Christmas.

Making a List: Santa’s Little Help lets you organize gifts by person, group, store, and gift type, while also tracking how much you’re spending on whom.

Santa’s Little Helper has some very nice organizational features. Adding gifts is a snap. Each gift page includes a field for the item name, the person for whom the gift is intended, price, whether or not the item has been purchased and wrapped, the store where you bought the gift, and a note field. My one complaint about the way the app’s database is configured here is you cannot assign the same item—a certain bottle of wine, say, or a particular book—to multiple recipients.

But you can plan your shopping trips according to store. And you can see at a glance how many gifts you’ve bought, and how many you have left to buy. The app also has a badge setting that shows you the number of gifts left outstanding from your device’s home screen. You can also mark gifts as purchased and wrapped, which is a helpful tool to have around Christmas Eve when you’ve completely lost your mind in a blizzard of paper and bows. More vital, you can create an e-mail backup of your list and e-mail copies from your handheld. You can also set a password to keep unauthorized eyes from peeking at what Santa may be leaving on Christmas Eve.

Unfortunately, Santa’s Little Helper has some big glitches: The app’s greatest limitation is you can only add ten people. Even in this age of austerity, ten is probably not enough. And the function of the group settings is not immediately obvious. Turns out, there is more than one way to create a group. You might think, Well, I just tap the “Groups” tab at the bottom of the screen, tap the plus sign in the upper right corner, and create a group, right? That is a perfectly reasonable assumption. It’s also mistaken. I managed to add two groups that way. But the third group… just… wouldn’t… take.

The workaround is to edit the people on your list. Santa’s Little Helper lets you move people on your list to a group folder, which you do by tapping an icon near the top right of the screen under the person’s name. A new window will open showing your existing groups. To create a new group, simply tap the “Add item to list” button.

Of course, the 10-person limit on the list may obviate the need for breaking your list down into friends, family, co-workers, clients and the like. The free, lite version of the app allows for just two people.

Checking It Twice: Christmas Shopping List has you set individual budgets before adding gifts, so that it can keep a running tally of what you’ve spent and how much of your budget remains.

Less glitchy is iDelux’s Christmas Shopping List, which is not to be confused with the aforementioned, similarly named Christmas List. In fact, when you launch the app, the title you see on the splash page is Holiday Shopping List—a gesture, no doubt, aimed at appealing to iPhone and iPod touch users who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice and, of course, Festivus in lieu of Christmas. In fact, the app’s settings screen includes wallpapers with alternative holiday themes—including a grey background reminiscent and evocative of the traditional Festivus pole.

Shopping List works slightly differently from Santa’s Little Helper, and has a few interesting features that set it apart from similar apps. The app requires you to set individual budgets before adding gifts. The app will then subtract from the budget with each item you add to a person’s list. Shopping List’s home screen displays your total budget, along with a running total of what you’ve spent and how much is left.

Shopping List has a simple interface for adding people and gifts. You add the name and budget, and select the person’s gender and group. So, unlike Santa’s Little Helper, there is no confusion or trouble about organizing your list by groups. But Shopping List limits your group choices to “family,” “friends,” “work,” and the ever-popular “other.”

When you add a gift, the app lets you input the item’s name, price and store, and includes a large field for notes. The app also lets you check whether a gift purchase is “pending” or “bought”—which seems like a superfluous feature, if you think about it. Either you’ve bought it or you haven’t.

Unlike Santa’s Little Helper, you can include photos of the gifts on your list, which is an enormously helpful feature. It would be even more helpful, however, if you could share your list or back up the list by e-mail.

Neither of these applications requires a Wi-Fi, 3G, or EDGE connection for routine use (only Santa’s Little Helper needs an Internet connection for e-mail backup). None of the most popular list-managing apps will actually help you locate your gifts or find the best deals. These are simply productivity tools with holiday themes. And there are, in fact, better list managers for the iPhone and iPod touch. (List Logic Software’s List Maker springs instantly to mind.)

On balance, however, Christmas Shopping List offers a simple way of managing your holiday shopping and staying on budget. Santa’s Little Helper might better live up to its name if and when the developer fixes some of its significant glitches.

[Ben Boychuk is a columnist and freelance writer in Rialto, Calif. Feel free to e-mail him.]

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Christmas Shopping List

  • Generic Company Place Holder Santa's Little Helper

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