From The Sunday Times, February 28, 2010
A flurry of money-saving mobile phone applications (apps) allowed users to save nearly £2 billion last year, and the savings are set to grow. Competition is heating up among app providers and the resulting price war is pushing down prices — often to zero.
About 3m shoppers used discount vouchers sent directly to mobile handsets last year and the amount saved globally is set to increase from £1.7 billion last year to £3.7 billion by 2014, according to Juniper Research, the analyst.
Graham Charlton at Econsultancy, another analyst, said: “Greater competition is bringing down prices. There are also a growing number of applications offering free trials.”
The vast majority of money-saving apps are available only on the Apple iPhone, through the Apple App store, although rivals such as BlackBerry and Android (used on smartphones like the HTC Hero), have also started to offer them.
BlackBerry has about 5,000 applications, while Apple says it has more than 140,000. Google’s Android handsets can access about 19,000 apps.
We tried out some of the most popular and highlight some of the best.
The Apple iPhone app provides a list of discounts and special offers locally. It uses its in-built GPS to determine where you are then lists nearby discounts. You simply show the discount to the retailer to benefit. The app has been available since the start of the month and 250,000 have been downloaded so far.
From our offices at Wapping, east London, the app highlighted a 10% discount at Jessops, the camera shop, and the outdoor activities shop Cotswold. You could also get 25% off your bill at the Fish Restaurant, Café Rouge, Strada, or a two-for-one deal at Zizzi — plus lots more.
If you have a smartphone using Google’s Android, you can download My Coupons, which offers a similar service.
Similar to the market-leading Red Laser app (£1.19), this allows you to compare prices for a product by scanning in the barcode using your handset’s camera. It will then highlight the price of the product from different retailers. You can also search using keywords if the item does not have a barcode.
For example, say you are looking for a Smeg SUK92MBL5, dual-fuel cooker, it will cost you £1,149 in John Lewis, but a search on iBARCODE shows that it is £1,075 at Appliance City. The service also works in France, America and Germany.
There are free barcode readers such as pic2shop, though it compares fewer retailers and there is no product search feature if you do not have a barcode to scan.
Android users can download ShopSavvy free. It also allows you to scan the barcode using your phone’s camera before comparing prices.
ATM HUNTER (free)
If you do not want to pay fees charged by some cash dispensers, this allows you to find your nearest non-fee ATM. You can also set it to find a particular bank’s machine.
ATM Hunter is also available free on BlackBerry handsets. Cashfinder, a similar application, claims to cover 99% of UK cash machines, but costs £1.79.
WIFI FINDER (free)
Wifi allows smartphone users to access the internet at faster speeds than the 3G network.
There are many Wifi “hot spots”, usually in bars, airports and stations, but some may charge for access. This application searches for all the free Wifi hotspots near you. It claims to cover 200,000 free hotspots over 135 countries.
FREE PARKING (£1.79)
This allows you to find the closest free parking zones. It will also tell you what the restrictions are and what time parking becomes free. However, the app is currently restricted to 11 central London boroughs but promises to add other areas shortly.
Nosey Parker is a more comprehensive service and costs 59p until the end of today; from tomorrow it will cost £1.79.
This app converts premium-rate telephone numbers starting with 0870, 0845 (and 0800 which are free for landlines but not mobiles) to low-cost numbers starting with 01 and 02. Mobile users cannot use premium numbers as part of their free calls package and are charged as much as 35p a minute. Calls on the converted number, however, will count towards your monthly usage allowance.
The difference between the most expensive and cheapest fuel was 16p a litre last week, according to petrolprices.com. It also has an iPhone application that allows you to find the cheapest petrol in your area.
It claims to cover 9,000 petrol stations in Britain and is automatically updated every weekday, excluding bank holidays. You can search for stations within a two-mile radius.
An alternative is My Gas, which is free to download.
TESCO CLUBCARD (free)
Tesco launched its app last month. It allows you to turn your mobile into a Clubcard. The screen turns into a barcode with your Clubcard details, which means you no longer have to worry about leaving your card at home. The app can be used only where a till operator is present but Tesco says it is planning to make it useable on self-service checkouts soon.
UK TAX CALCULATOR (59p) This app will allow you to work out how much tax you will be paying in any given tax year. Enter your annual salary and other details such as pension contributions and whether you are paying off a student loan and the application does the rest for you.
A more basic free version called Calculate My Salary gives you details of how much you pay in income tax and National Insurance contributions as well as your net income on a weekly, monthly or annual basis.
MINI MORTGAGE MANAGER (59p)
This app helps you to keep an eye on your home loan by calculating monthly costs as well as how much you have repaid and how much of this has gone on interest payments. BlackBerry users can download Mortgage Calculator Pro, which offers a similar service, but it costs £5.65.
VOUCHING FOR THE TASTIEST DEALS
MARK ANDRES, 25, from Bristol, who works in marketing, has been using the Vouchercloud application on his mobile phone for the past fortnight and has already saved £30.
“I recently went out for a meal with six friends and we got £61 off the total bill using a discount I found on Vouchercloud,” he said. “It’s just so easy and convenient to use.”
He also uses Skype, which allows cheap or free calls over the internet, and other shopping applications to save money using his Apple iPhone.
Andres lives with his girlfriend, Anni de Wolf, 28, a senior account manager, who also uses mobile applications to save money.
ROAMING COST CAP
Phone bill shocks for customers who use their mobiles to surf the internet abroad should become a thing of the past when European rules on roaming charges come into effect tomorrow. A cut-off mechanism will kick in once €50 (£44) is spent on data roaming. If you want to spend more, you’ll have to contact your network.
Mike Wilson at moneysupermarket.com said: “A cap should wipe out the cases where people are stung with unreasonable bills for using their mobile internet abroad.”