Smart Consumer: Life, the universe and cheap deals -- there's a phone app for that...
If you want the answer to life, the universe and everything, there's an app for that -- apparently. Even if you can't find it, there are a huge number of mobile apps now available that promise all kinds of magic solutions to a whole universe of problems (including some you didn't even know you had).
It should follow that relatively simple activities or aims, such as saving money, should be within the capabilities of mobile app developers. We looked for some of the best examples.
Pumps.ie is the best-known fuel prices website in Ireland. It offers up-to-date information on the prices of petrol and diesel at forecourts all over the country, and is based on prices submitted by members of the public.
But its mobile app is particularly handy, as it uses GPS to work out where you are and supply information on the prices being charged by garages nearby, as well as their location.
Well known for enabling users to make free Skype-to-Skype calls (ie calls to other Skype users) or much cheaper phone calls to regular landlines or mobiles anywhere in the world over the internet, Skype's mobile app essentially allows you to do the same using your smartphone.
Until fairly recently, one snag was that it wasn't possible to use the service on a 3G data mobile network -- you had to use a wi-fi network. But now you can. You can also send international texts for less than 9c per text, compared to about 15c through your mobile network.
This is a popular Irish application that allows anyone with a webtext account to send free webtexts from their iPhones. It runs on all the Irish mobile operators, as well as over 30 other web-based SMS services.
It's a free app, but for €2.99 you can get EirText Pro, which offers a range of useful extra features, including being able to send international texts. It's only available for iPhones or iPods so far, though. If you have an Android phone, you could try Cabbage, another free app which is very similar.
Daily deal apps
Daily deal websites, such as Groupon.ie, Grabone.ie or LivingSocial.com can help you get more for less by offering products or services for big discounts over a period of 24 to 36 hours.
Members receive online offers and invitations, usually by email. All the aforementioned sites, and more, now offer apps to make it even handier to browse and find those bargains.
Red Laser/ Google Shopper
Online shopping is great for saving money. However, the best deals are not always to be found online, which makes it worth pounding the high street.
This is where Red Laser and Google Shopper app can be handy. Using your phone's camera to take a photograph of a product barcode, the code is scanned by the app and used to do an online search for prices, reviews, specifications etc. Both are free and available on both iPhone and Android.
The AA Parking app (from AA in the UK -- but covers Ireland as well) finds the cheapest, or even free, car park handiest to you. It can also give you the opening times and prices. If the option is available, you will even be able to see how many car-parking spaces are left and if it is a secured car park or not.
It costs just over €2 and is available for iPhones and Android phones.
A very popular (and free) app at well over 30,000 downloads to date, Irish Taxi will hunt for taxi firms wherever you are and present you with a list. Now on its second version, it includes a (more accurate) fare estimator and a new section listing discounts and deals on offer from taxi firms. For both iPhone and Android.
This is a widely praised one for tracking expenses or planning a monthly budget. XpenseIt Lite is the free, basic version of XpenseIt, but it includes the very useful feature where you can take a picture of a receipt or bill with your phone's camera, categorise it and have it tracked as part of your overall monthly budget. You can also enter expense data manually as well, of course, but this saves you the bother.
Tip N Split
Anyone with a basic ability to do sums wouldn't need this app, but after a boozy meal it's surprising how much harder the task becomes of splitting the cost of a meal between diners, particularly when tips have to be included.
Simply enter the cost of your meal and how much you want to tip as a percentage into Tip N Split, select the number of diners and this free and handy app will do the rest. Especially handy for getting those stingy diners who "forget" to tip to cough up in full.
If you're travelling in a non-eurozone country, you can see how much local currency you'll get for your euro with the Currency app (for iPhones only).
You can find out the exchange rate of more than 180 countries. XE Currency is another alternative, available from the people behind the well-known website XE.com, and which is also available for Android phones.
Electric Ireland offers meter-reading apps which allow you to submit your own electricity and gas readings to them, meaning no more estimated bills and much more control over your electricity or gas charges.
Bord Gáis has a general app for managing your gas supply account (though not electricity, yet) that includes this facility, but it's currently only available for iPhones.
An independent app called Meter Readings is also available for iPhones from independent UK software developer Graham Haley, which reportedly works for energy firms here, too.
If this app, which won an 'Appy' award last year (think Irish Oscars for apps), encourages you to use Dublin Bus more often, then it can't be a bad thing as far as your pockets are concerned. You can use this app to see the next four buses due to arrive at any bus stop and what time they will be there.
Passengers can also search by bus route. The system uses the same basic GPS system to identify the position of approaching buses as used for the 270 electronic display units across the city. Now available on Android phones as well as iPhones.
If you're inclined to take care of your tax affairs while on the move, you could do worse than download the Irish Taxation Institute's mobile app. It includes a tax calculator that can check if your monthly after-tax pay is being calculated correctly and also see if you are claiming for your full entitlement to allowances and reliefs.
The Revenue Commissioners has launched an app last year designed to make it easier to claim tax relief on medical expenses.
The app allows PAYE employees to keep tabs on their health expenses by recording them as they occur.