iTunes apps as holiday gifts? Maybe not this year.

By Kevin Kelleher
December 15, 2010

Apple has sold some 8 million iPads since the tablet went on sale in April and, by some estimates, more than 100 million iPhones and iPod Touches to date. That should make iOS apps a satisfying holiday gift for many people, and some people are already offering their suggestions.

But this may not be the right year for apps as stocking stuffers, for two reasons. First, Apple isn’t really making it so easy. As Bob Tedeschi points out in the New York Times, Apple seems to go out of its way to make it difficult for gift givers to choose which apps to give to their loved ones. (Imagine if thought this way.)

Apple does not allow companies to sell iTunes gift cards that are designated for specific apps. But, the iTunes App Store lets shoppers “Gift This App,” wrapping the present in a not-so-lovely e-mail or a printed notification that includes the app’s icon and a redemption code. (Next to the “Buy App” button is a downward-facing arrow. Click and hold that arrow, and you will find the “Gift This App” link.)

Apple is also offering a “12 days of Christmas” promotion, giving away a free app every day, starting on Dec. 26. But as has been the case in past years, the offer is good only in Europe and not in the U.S. Apple likes to play Santa east of the Atlantic and Scrooge west of it.

No worries. Because the most useful and versatile app available for the iPhone is already installed. With it you can find more features and functions than you can on any app for sale in Apple’s iTunes store. And best of all, it’s free. It’s called a browser app, and it comes in Safari and Opera, among other brands.

Surveys showthat people spend up to half of their time on smartphones using Safari, Opera or a dedicated browser for Blackberry and Android phones. For all the apps downloaded, most people only return to a dozen or so on a regular basis.

Google shows with its Voice and Latitude apps that browser apps – that is, apps that look like a regular app on a smartphone but employ a web browser – can be every bit as functional and compelling as an app designed for a phone.

Of course, die-hard fans of iPads and iPhones will welcome any gift to enhance their iOS acivities, whether in the form of apps or accessories. But Apple is missing an opportunity to make it easier to shop for them.

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We give itunes gift cards and then they can just buy the app they like. For our iPad we are loving Angry Birds Christmas and Christmas Tree Fun!

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