As the TechCrunch Network’s resident mobile guy, I was given the task of writing up a list of apps for each smartphone platform that you ought to buy as little e-stocking stuffers for your loved ones. It was to be my primary contribution to CrunchGear’s ultra-amazing Holiday Gift Guide; my festively themed magnum opus.
But there’s a problem with this idea: it can’t be done. It’s not because I’m lazy (which may be true), nor because I don’t have any apps to recommend (which most certainly is not). I can’t recommend apps for you to buy for others, because you can’t buy apps for others.
Be it the Apple App Store, Android Market, Palm App Catalog, or BlackBerry App World, it’s bah-humbugs all around. The App Store is the only one that even gets close, allowing you to buy gift cards. Whilst many a geek would likely prefer the gift cards, there’s a big chunk of the world that equates giving a gift card to handing someone a piece of paper that reads “I didn’t really put much thought into this. Merry Christmas!”
Apple seems to be the one who could address this with the least effort, by making use of their redeemable promo code system. Currently reserved for dishing out promo copies of applications and claiming gift cards purchased online, it doesn’t seem like it would be insurmountably difficult to adapt for these purposes. Let people build “gift packs” of apps for friends (which would be much less difficult if Apple hadn’t done away with the Shopping Cart in iTunes 9), pay for them up front, and then generate a promo code which can be sent to the gift recipient. The recipient won’t know what they’re getting until the promo code is redeemed, making it about as close to opening a meatspace present as you get in the virtual world. Apple has a gifting setup in place for just about everything on iTunes besides apps.
BlackBerry and Palm aren’t too far behind – though they don’t have a code redemption system set up, they do offer up their entire app catalog online for perusal by anyone without a compatible handset. Android lacks both a redemption system and an off-handset catalog (outside of the few hundred apps they feature on the Market site). The closest bet you’ve got for any of these three would be PayPal’ing your buddy a few bucks with a list of Apps – but at that point, why bother?
It scares me to think about how much potential revenue is being thrown away here by ignoring would-be gift givers. In a time when many are cutting back their shopping lists to their family and closest of friends, the friendly pricing of apps makes them a perfectly opportune way to say “Hey, I still think you’re great”. No wrapping or shipping required.