Everyone's on the go this time of year. Whether you're rushing for gifts, flying home for the holidays, or distracting yourself from the annoying kids in the line at Macy's, your smartphone can be your saving grace. (Just to be clear -- I'm not the only one that stands in line to visit Santa by myself...right? Right?)
With the right app, you can make your shopping season simpler, catch that plane, or even make the family party fun this year. All it takes is a sharp eye, a few bucks, and a few free gigs on your phone. On Apple, on Samsung, on Google and Verizon! Joonbug's got your apps for the holiday season! (And yes, we know that the rhyme only works if you pronounce it "Vereezon." Get into the spirit and stop complaining.)
Best Travel Apps:
Flight Tracker is good news for people taking flights, and better news for their rides. While it's not as cool as NORAD's new Santa tracking app, you can look up any commercial flight in the world and get instant updates about weather, delays, and terminal info. Responsible parties can get updates about arrivals pushed to their phone, and chart your progress live while you're without your phone -- though why you're without it, we're still not sure. Free, available on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry.
For those for whom a direct flight home is nothing more than a pie in the sky, we know your pain -- long layovers, crappy airport food, and the occasional sprint to your gate to catch a flight, barreling over children in the process. Gate Guru can't solve any of these problems, but it can certainly alleviate the pain. By providing maps, reviews, and info on 85 U.S. airports, the app has become the Yelp of the airline industry. Whether you're looking for the best dumplings at O'Hare or the closest bathroom at JFK, smartphone users are covered. Free, available on iPhone and Android.
Best Shopping Apps:
Google does what tech giants do -- take bits and pieces from small, succesful applications, and put them all together in one big platform. The new Google Shopper borrows the best technology from Red Laser, Groupon, and their own Google Maps, and turns your holiday bargain hopping into a straight up treasure hunt. By scanning a barcode (or simply the cover art of books and DVDs), you can compare the pricetag with other stores in you area, whose locations are conveniently displayed on your phone. If you want to go where the deals are, Google Shopper offers a new discount deal every day in your area -- perfect for impulse gifting. The Groupon-like feature is only available in New York, San Francisco, and Portland this year, but more cities will follow soon. Free, available on iPhone and Android.
For the disorganized among us (what are you looking at, pile of scribbled Post-Its?), the smartphone can serve as a gift-giving guru. Gift Plan is the perfect app for the productivity-challenged, as it keeps the particulars in order: with color coded tabs, you can keep track of wish lists for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions, as well as recipients' likes, dislikes, and lest we forget, sizes. The layout is as attractive as an organization app gets, including easy-to-read calendars, budgets, and profile pages for your loved ones. $2.99, available on iPhone.
Oh, and if that wrinkled pile of receipts is still piling up, you should consider downloading Lemon's receipt scanning app. Free, available on iPhone, Android and Blackberry.
Games and Amusement:
Whether it's for a tot with a Dr. Seuss hankering, or just to keep your inner child alive during the hectic holiday season, Ocean Media's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" app is a great buy for all ages. While the design works for phones, it's best read on e-readers in one of its three forms: the classic book, the "Auto Play" book with a narrator, or the "Learning to Read" version, where young schoolgoers can listen to the narration with highlighted words. $3.99, available on iPhone, Android, iPad and Nook readers.
You've had a hard day shopping. Take a break and play. Our top pick is the decidedly unseasonal, but always fun Corpse Granny ($0.99, iPhone). Visualize your Nana as a badass zombie killer, as you solve puzzles in three worlds of mayhem. Make sure you have more than a subway stop to figure them out, though, as the built-in timer makes Angry Birds look leisurely by comparison.
But if you're really into puzzles, we have a throwback question for you: remember Puzz 3-D? The foam puzzle pieces that could be assembled into a miniature Capitol or Notre Dame? Get as close as a smartphone can with Blueprint 3D ($0.99, iPhone), easily the most intense puzzle experience out there. Lift, rotate, and place dozens of pieces to create an interactive blueprint archietectural luminaries like the Eiffel Tower...or chainsaws.
For the non iPhoner, finding good games can be a hassle. Kill the stress by blowing away some bad guys as Major Mayhem ($0.99, iPhone & Android). This shooter game features sweet retro graphics brought to you by its creators at [adult swim], and features 45 levels of jungle-dwelling, ninja-like, highly-killable terrorists that have kidnapped your girlfriend. Happy hunting. And happy holidays!