Recessions aren’t necessarily bad for consumers. If you happen to be lucky enough to have some disposable income, you can take advantage of the many deep discounts retailers are offering to help juice sales. The App Store is really no different, as developers—many of whom are one-person shops, anyway—look to keep revenue flowing in the downturn.
But the dilemma for many app shoppers is especially acute in troubled economic times: Do I really want to spend $10 or $5 or even $1 on this app? When you’ve got more than 20,000 app to wade through, it’s tough to find good deals when they do come along. And some sales are very much limited-time offers—sometimes a week, sometimes only a few hours.
Manta Research attempts to resolve these difficulties with AppSniper, an app for the iPhone and iPod touch that lets you track App Store prices as they fall. When you find an app you are interested in purchasing, simply tap the listing and then tap “buy.” AppSniper will automatically launch the App Store on your device. It’s possible to recoup the $1 cost of the app with just one use.
You “snipe” an app by searching for the application you want, tapping a rifle scope icon, and using the scroll wheel to select the price you are willing to pay. When—if—the app drops to the price you set, AppSniper will alert you the next time you use the application.
Truth is, I haven’t found the snipe function all that useful in the few weeks I’ve used AppSniper. None of the apps I sniped ever hit their targets, but I assume that had more to do with my selections than the app’s functionality. That said, it’s a shame there is no way for the app to automatically alert you, whether by e-mail or SMS text, when your snipe tags its bogey.
AppSniper is most useful as an App Store sale clearinghouse. When you launch the app, it will sync up with the latest data and display price changes within the past 24 and 48 hours. The menu bar at the bottom of the screen lets you sort by sale apps, new apps and “hot apps” among the various store categories. Because the app selection is so massive, AppSniper will let you filter the results through 20 genre filters, including news, productivity, sports, games, travel, business, finance, and weather.
Even so, it’s still tough to sort through the sheer volume of stuff. There is no search function in AppSniper. It is very much a browsing experience.
(Update: After this review was posted, Manta Research pointed out that AppSniper does have a search feature under the Snipes tab. But the feature isn’t at all obvious or intuitive, especially since the app’s default page is the new and recent app additions. Manta has said it plans to make the search button more prominent in a future release.)
The app requires a Wi-Fi or 3G/EDGE connection to work. You need to enable the 3G/EDGE function in the app’s settings, however. Why this isn’t a default, I do not know.
A couple of additional caveats: Although AppSniper updates price information regularly, you absolutely must double check the price as it appears on the App Store. Sometimes, the price you see on AppSniper isn’t the same as the actual price. Also, AppSniper is hardly the only way to track price fluctuations at the App Store. You could follow 148apps_pdrops on Twitter, for example.
Earlier versions of AppSniper were buggy memory hogs. More than once I received a message warning me that the app has “detected a low memory condition” and instructing me to restart. The problem seems to have been resolved with the latest update, however. I haven’t had an error since downloading the update.
AppSniper might not be the ultimate bargain finder for savvy app shoppers, but it does yeoman’s work if you have the time and patience to browse.
AppSniper is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.x software update.
[Ben Boychuk is a freelance writer and columnist in Rialto, Calif.]
This article was updated on February 20 to note the existence of a search feature.