We know the lights have been up and the calendars in the shops since September, but Christmas has somehow crept up on us once again, poised just around the corner to pounce and throw us all into the annual tizzy of panicked present buying, last minute online turkey orders and the trawl through our Facebook friends lists and rolodexes, marking down the names of those we mustn’t – really mustn’t, this year – forget to dispatch Christmas cards to.
In this last instance, at least, team Recombu is on hand to shoulder part of your burden, dear reader, as we present a quick rundown of some of the Apple App Store’s most popular digital Christmas card apps. Some are great, many are naff, but whichever digital alternative you plump for in lieu of physical cards this Christmas, remember you can always fall back on that old festive get out of jail free card: “it’s the thought that counts.”
An average Christmas card app that’s let down by an interface that is unfairly tricky to navigate. Pick your card’s background, font, text colour and text effects from four scrolling wheels, a bit like a slot machine, but the preview only shows up in one corner of the screen and is too small to be of much use. This problem is further compounded when you try and change the font size or position, which is done on a separate screen where the preview isn’t visible at all, making the whole thing an exercise in trial and error.
The pictures bundled with the app for backgrounds are standard Christmas card fodder (think snowflakes, candles and boxes with bows on), and there’s also an option to upload your own from your phone’s photo album. If you’re terminally uncreative, there’s also a ‘shake it up!’ button that randomises all the elements, invariably producing something hideous. This is in no small part down to the choice of fonts the app comes with, which include the title font from the Resident Evil films and the one from the Star Wars logo. Because nothing says Christmas like zombies and lightsabers.
Create Greeting Cards (Christmas)
Once you’ve booted up the app, you’re taken directly into the editing mode, with the screen wholly taken up with your card design – there are no menus to ease you in here. The interface is crummily put together, with only three buttons that deign to actually perform any function. The ‘pic’ button lets you choose a photo from your album to use as the basis for your card (there are some stock images available – more on these later). The save button downloads the card to your photo library and the text button adds a line of white text to the background. The bin button does nothing whatsoever. You can only add text to the images (there’s no Christmas clip art to spruce up dull designs) and although you can drag the text around and position it how you like, there’s no option to change the font, the colour or the size of the text anywhere in the app. Predictably, the results always look shoddy and amateurish.
The selection of stock images is also pretty slapdash, and goes from a Cartoon Network-style reindeer on moment to a 3D-rendered Santa and sleigh the next. This pricks our judicial spider-sense – we’d be interested to see the license for that photo of Mickey Mouse in a Santa Hat, Mr. Developer.
The only option for sending your dodgy Christmas card is by e-mail (no Facebook or Twitter for you), but there are better apps included on this list.
Holiday Cards by Sincerely Ink
Of all the apps in the list, this feels possibly the most professional and well-designed (perhaps tied with X-Life Cards). It’s also the only app on the list that will let you send your card designs as actual, physical Christmas cards ($1.99 to send anywhere in the US, $2.99 anywhere in the rest of the world).
Instead of offering only stock Christmas pictures or the option to use your own as a background, Sincerely Ink comes bundled with both illustrated designs and Christmas templates (frames and borders with editable text layers) with a space for your own photo in the middle. The results look professional, and the card can be previewed fullscreen before finishing. As this is an app for sending proper physical cards, it’s also the only one which lets you put images and personal messages on the inside of the card – although, of course, you can just save your design to your phone and e-mail it to friends and family.
The only niggle is that to send the card, you will have to set up a free account with Sincerely Ink. Registration, however, is free and easy to set up, so it’s not what we’d call a deal breaker.
Christmas Cards – 100+ Free Cards
This app (also called ‘Christmas Cards’ in the App Store, confusingly), borrows its user interface pretty heavily from iBooks, with all the app’s card designs presented on a digital bookshelf for your perusal. After a hugely long initial loading screen (it’s not frozen, it’s just thinking very hard), you can pick your card from a few dozen pre-set templates and add a line of text to each. For all that loading time, you don’t get much bang for your buck here, as there’s no option to upload your own images and it’s only possible to add one line of text, which again you can’t change the size/font/colour of. The nice design will be instantly familiar and comfortable for anyone who’s used iBooks, but the dearth of content relegates this app to a second choice.
Holidays 2011 HD
It’s free, which is good, but the first thing you’re met with on firing up Holidays 2011 HD is a full-screen advert for free HD wallpapers – annoying. Even though it bills itself as doing digital Christmas cards, this is at its core a wallpapers app, with a good selection of images but no option to edit them or add text. The upside is that the images aren’t thematically limited to Christmas – the app also includes images for Halloween, Thanksgiving etc.
Images aren’t stored in the app, but are pulled from the developer’s online database, so a web connection is essential for browsing (and sending any as Christmas cards, obviously). It’s an alright option for people too lazy to even scrawl out short festive messages to loved ones, but if all you want is a festive image to e-mail to friends and family, there really isn’t any reason to pick this app over Google Image Search.
Christmas Cards Free
Christmas Cards Free is a mixed bag of an app, with a horrible design and amusing Engrish instructions marring an otherwise powerful image/text editing piece of app software. Example: start up the app and you are greeted with the message: “Help. You are going to like a picture merely by clicking on it.” Presumptuous, perhaps, but as it turns out a neat metaphor for the app itself: we kind of get it, but by God it could be clearer.
The interface takes a bit of experimenting to get your head round. To add text to an image, you have to double tap the screen (there’s no ‘text’ button to tap on the menu). The ‘image’ button saves your creation to your photo album (more brilliant Engrish here, with confirmation of the save process coming with the announcement, “it is kept in the photo album”). The ‘F’ button lets you share the card through Facebook, while ‘mail’ and ‘mms’, mercifully, do exactly what you’d expect them to.
Once you’ve got the text editor open, it does offer a great degree of control. Text can be resized with a pinching motion, spun around, coloured, italicised and even given a drop shadow (the colour of which you can control separately). It’s the most powerful text-editing tool of the bunch; it’s just a shame it’s hidden behind such a baffling user interface.
Build-a-Card is the only app which works in landscape mode by default, which does make it easier to inspect your creation up close on the iPhone’s 3.5-inch display. You start by picking a photo from your phone’s album, and then pick one of the pre-designed templates bundled with the app. From here on out, the app basically becomes a clip art scrap book, with all sorts of santa hats, candles, fluffy white beards etc. to dress the subject up in like a shopping centre Father Christmas. A personal message can then be added to the card, and although the default font is festive and suits the card templates provided, being able to change neither it nor the text colour is irritating. Your card can then be shared through e-mail, Facebook or Twitter, or saved to your photo album to be sent as an MMS message.
Christmas Card Designer
Christmas Postcard Designer is a fun, clip art-based card designer that lets you build a card in portrait or in landscape. Building your image is intuitive; you pick the background first (about ten different flavours of snowy landscape), then add in stock festive pics of wrapped presents, trees, Santa and reindeer, which can all be resized and moved around using the iPhone’s touchscreen. Finally, you add your Christmas message, which thankfully can be just about any size, colour or font you fancy. Once you’ve polished off something as fabulously festive as our example, you can send it off via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail.
Another card designer that works with a combination of templates and clip art. Once again, this isn’t the app for you if you just want a cartoon snowman standing under the words “Merry Christmas” – think of it more like the posh crackers from M&S versus the pound shop’s 20-box. You pick your template, which all look a bit like invitations to a swanky Christmas dinner, and from there add in your own photos or raid the app’s clip art collection for candy canes and cheeky grinning Santas. Text and clip art editing are a lot easier to handle in this app than in many others on the list, with the ability to add ‘cells’ (spaces for images or text) to your design, much like in Apple’s Pages application. You can also have a fiddle with some more advanced options like text alignment and opacity, if your devotion to creating the perfect Christmas card stretches that far. Christmas Lifecards is our favourite here.