I suppose I really shouldn't be surprised to see Christmas items appearing on store shelve weeks ahead of Thanksgiving. Each year it seems merchants are choosing to start getting fired up about the holiday buying season earlier. While it shouldn't be a big deal, for me at least, it is. I find it a bit disconcerting to walk across a parking lot that's radiating so much heat that asphalt gets sticky (or is that chewed gum?) and into a store air conditioned to 34 degrees with fake snow and Santa posters everywhere.
Still, from a practical standpoint, advertising early for Christmas buying is a good idea. People are reminded that they need to get gifts for relatives and friends that don't live close by, which usually mean whatever is bought (or made if you're old school) has to be packaged up and sent via one of the three major package shipping services here in the U.S.
Shipping stuff has certainly gotten a lot easier over the years, especially since FedEx and United Parcel Service hooked up with businesses that serve as a storefronts for them. What's nice about their offerings is that they'll also help you package your item, a godsend for anything fragile (in keeping with the presumptuous holiday spirit, it should be pronounced "Fra-GEE-lay") or oddly sized or shaped.
The US Postal Service, which has been staging a minor comeback of sorts based on its package delivery service, have had storefronts in ever zip code in America almost before there was a U.S. of A. They've taken a different approach. They offer a variety of package sizes and if you can stuff your item in one they'll deliver it for a flat rate regardless of weight.
Not only has shipping gotten easier, the number of options shippers provide have expanded as well. You can get insurance, tracking (automatic for most packages), delivery receipt, certified delivery (with or without signature), signature receipt, and so on. Be careful, not every service offers every option, but all offer the standard options you'd expect.
So, you've bought the perfect gift for dear Aunt Jennifer, that fake stuffed moose head with red glowing eyes that lights up whenever someone walks in front of it (which totally creeps you out, but she thinks it's hilarious). You've managed to get it into a box, and now you need to ship it. Which option do you choose? Lucky for you each service I mentioned have apps in the iOS universe, and they are all free. That makes them ideal fodder for this week's Free on iTunes. So let's get to it.
FedEx [8.5 MB, all iOS devices iOS 5.0 or later, Maker: FedEx Corporate Services Inc]
Anyone who has ordered anything online will be familiar with FedEx. Seeing one of the white and purple trucks stopping in front of your house can be almost as exciting as Christmas morning. And most folks know that they can track shipments, either going or coming, using the service's website. With this app you can pretty much do the same. Just fire it up and tap in the tracking number and there you go.
Store locator works fine for FedEx
You can also find the location of FedEx stores, which can come in handy if you want a package delivered there instead of at your home.
If you want more options you can create an account. What options? How about a package delivery manager that will tell you when a package will be delivered so you can make arrangements to receive it or have it dropped off at a FedEx store for pickup. There are other features too.
And tracking is a breeze where ever you are
Be careful when creating an account, you can choose to create an account only which will get you into the Delivery Manager, but some other options, like package pickup, will require credit card info.
It's just my opinion, but getting the delivery manager setup is well worth setting up an account, and this app will come in handy throughout the year.
UPS Mobile [9.1 MB, all iOS devices iOS 5.0 or later, Maker: UPS]
United Parcel Service (or Brown, as they like to call themselves) have a nice little app which offers all the basic features you might expect; package tracking, store locations, shipping options (credit card on file required). It also lets you create an account so that you can get delivery alerts like FedEx provides. The difference is that Brown will only send you email alerts for free. You'll have to pay $40 a year to get alerts via SMS, while FedEx provides email, SMS or automated phone alerts for free.
Simple but effective, that's the Brown app
Beyond that there's not much else to the UPS Mobile app. It's laid out nicely, getting tracking and shipping info is easy to get and understand. It does provide a Facebook link so you can get social with it, but why would you want to?
If there's something to be said for simplicity then it should be said about the UPS Mobile app. If you send or receive stuff via Brown then it wouldn't hurt to have this app handy.
USPS Mobile [12 MB, all iOS devices iOS 5.0 or later, Maker: United States Postal Service]
I mentioned that the U.S. Postal Service seems to been making serious gains in its package shipping efforts. If you've gotten a package from Amazon or other online retailers lately odds are that the package came via USPS. Why not? If your shipping needs fall within the parameters set by USPS then its the cheapest way to send stuff.
For a flat fee depending on the package size you pick from a defined selection, and wether you opt for Priority or Priority Express (stick with Priority) USPS will ship you package to any state in the Union, and do it pretty darn quickly too. I've sent boxes from my home here in Florida to California and they've gotten there within 5 business days via Priority shipping and for a lot less than what the other guys would have charged. Not bad.
Lots of help and they all work too
The USPS app augments the service with tracking info, zip code search tool, locations, shipping cost calculator, even a way to get free shipping supplies delivered to you (minimum of 10 each of any item). You can also get them to hold mail delivery for up to 30 days. And you can schedule package pickup too.
Simple to hold your mail while you're away
You get all this in a neat, clean little app that's a pleasure to use. It doesn't warn you of impending deliveries, but for what it does and what it costs, this app is well worth the download.
And that's a wrap for this week.
Make sure you check out this week's free App of the Week, PicPlayPost, a unique photo tool to add to your collection.
Also grab this week's Free Single of the Week, Strong, from London Grammar.