I eagerly look forward to the holidays every year, but increasingly I rely on my iPad and iPhone to help deal with holiday tasks in ways that free me to enjoy time with friends and family. In my case, the holidays include cooking and entertaining and gift-giving, which means both shopping for gifts and creating gifts.
There’s an app for that.
My list-making needs are simple, so I generally rely on the iOS Reminders app. Reminders syncs with all my iOS devices and my Mac via iCloud. I can have multiple lists in play at any time and several tasks allocated to each list. I can assign a time and date for the task, and then receive a reminder on my Mac and iOS devices via the Notification center. It’s trivial to create a schedule for creating a holiday dinner, or coordinate a shopping expedition.
For those with more sophisticated needs, Any.DO Task and To-Do List for iPhone is free and syncs with other iOS devices via the developer’s site . Any.DO allows you to share your lists, create tasks with location reminders as well as time-and-date, use voice commands, and easily postpone or re-schedule tasks. For $2.99, Clear+ Tasks and To Do List for iOS from Realmac Software supports the iPad as well as iPhone and iPod Touch. There’s even a syncing Mac OS X Clear client for $9.99. You can have multiple lists with multiple tasks, move tasks from one list to another, and sync them across devices via iCloud. Tasks are color-coded in terms of urgency or importance. Clear+ is very gesture-based in terms of creating and dismissing tasks (swipe left to delete, swipe right to clear a task) and both can display items in Reminders.
Both Amazon and Apple make it easy to digitally window shop, as well as order with a tap. Amazon’s free app for iPhone and iPad makes ordering, tracking, and managing wish lists exceedingly simple. Amazon has also created Amazon Santa . This app helps kids window shop at Amazon (it's not possible to actually purchase items from the app) for themselves and others by using Wish Lists. They can even send a shopping list to Santa (otherwise known as the email associated with the Amazon registration associated with the app). The animated interface is largely icon-driven; kids can drag and drop items to a wish list and navigate categories via icons. If a parent registers the app with an Amazon account, they can access kids’ wish lists via email and even send it to other interested parties. There’s even a browse mode that doesn’t require an Amazon account.
Apple, via the Apple Store app, has gone a step beyond in making it simple to scan barcodes at the store and expedite checkout, as well as check stock and reserve items to be picked up at the store. (Using the Apple Store app on iPhone is still probably the easiest way to order and arrange pickup for a new iPhone.) Until 12/31/2013, Apple is offering a free holiday music playlist via the Apple Store app on iPhone. The iPad version of the Apple Store app isn’t quite as feature rich as the iPhone/iPod Touch version, and this particular offer is one of the features the iPad version seems to lack.
There are also several catalog apps for the iPad that serve as showcases for catalog retailers, ranging from Crate&Barrel to Lands End. The idea is that you shop via the app, but make your purchase via the retailer’s website. The leading contender apps are Catalog Spree and Catalogue from The Find.
If you are not sure what to buy someone, or short of time, you can easily send a particular gift via a digital certificate in iTunes or a gift certificate for a specific amount. Keep in mind that iTunes Gift cards work with the iTunes Store, App Store, iBooks Store, and Mac App Store. Apple store gift cards can be used at Apple retail stores or in the Apple online store. If you haven’t noticed the Wish List feature in iTunes, this is the perfect time to start using wish lists. You can access it via the Share icon in the top right of the iTunes iOS app.
Pinterest has a useful free iOS app that makes creating a wish list or a shopping list for gift giving simple. Just pin gift ideas as you see them. It’s a great way to store menu ideas or holiday decor ideas as well. The app syncs seamlessly with the website and your free Pinterest account.
Once you’ve done all your holiday shopping, use June Cloud’s $4.99 Delivery Status touch to track those packages on your iPhone or iPad. Delivery Status supports tracking for all the delivery services I’ve heard of, including Canadian (but not, alas, those without a presence North America), and supports alerts, notifications and map-based updated tracking.
While I’m still mourning the loss of iCards and Apple’s own Cards iOS app, you can still send printed letterpress cards customized with your photos and text using iPhoto on your Mac for $2.99 each. iPhoto for iOS doesn’t support card creation, but other apps do.
Ink is a free post card app from Sincerely. Ink relies on sincerely.com to handle contacts and addressing (it’s a free account) for postcards you customize using their templates and your photos and messages. You can use photos from a variety of sources, including the iOS Photos app, Flickr, Google Drive and Facebook. A 300 dpi 5 x 7 card on glossy heavy stock sent to a U.S. postal addresses is $1.99, including postage, with reduced rates for larger orders. Cards are delivered to US, UK, European, and Canadian postal addresses in 2-5 business days, and elsewhere in two to three weeks.
PingSome is an animated greeting card app from Jeego. You create a free account, choose an animated card (with sound and music) customize the sender and recipient, add a message, and choose a delivery method (Twitter, email or Facebook). Regardless of the delivery method, the actual animation takes place on the PingSome website. The app and the first card are free; subsequent cards require you to make an in-app purchase for “credits.” Three credits are required per card; you can buy three credits for $0.99 and fifty credits for $2.99.
Create Your Own Photo-Based Gifts
iPhoto for iOS 7 is $4.99 from the App store, but free with recently purchased iPhones. It now lets you create hardcover photo books using iPhoto for iOS in either 8x8 inch or 10x10 inch sizes, as well as custom-size prints from your photos, up to and including auto-sized panorama prints and wall posters. Simply select the photos you wish to have printed or included in a book, then tap the Sharing icon.
Shutterfly is a website for creating all sorts of photo gifts using your photos. Possible gifts range from greeting cards and post cards to mugs, calendars, canvas prints, and even tree ornaments. The website is fairly simple to use, even on iOS devices, but it’s a good idea to to create a Shutterfly account and upload images to their server first. There’s a Shutterfly app for iPad (and one for iPhone. You can link the Shutterfly app to your Shutterfly, Facebook or Instagram accounts, as well as import photos from the iOS Photos app. You’ll need a free Shutterfly account to make a purchase, but the iOS app provides some special offers.
There are a number of free iOS recipe apps from large cooking sites like All Recipes and Epicurious. These apps let you search for recipes based on ingredients, as well as specific dishes. The All Recipes Video Cookbook is a free download, although the app does require a free membership to the All Recipes website. (The iPad app is much easier to use while you’re cooking.)
The Epicurious website has a free membership and free apps for iPad and iPhone . The site features recipes from a wide variety of cooking magazines, including Gourmet, Bon Appetit, cookbooks, chefs, and members. The apps allow you to browse, search, save, bookmark, and email recipes and create shopping lists. The iPad app features a full-screen mode with an orange draggable bookmark so you can follow the step-by-step instructions for a recipe (the ingredients list is just a tap away). It’s trivially simple to save or share recipes via Facebook, Twitter or email. With a $1.99 in-app purchase you can save and sync recipes and shopping lists across devices.
Getting It There in Time
Thanks to the speed of digital gift-giving and the ease of shopping, it’s almost never too late to shop for the holidays. Apple is offering free shipping on purchases from the Apple store until December 22. There’s a convenient chart when to shop for delivery by December 25 .