The best mobile apps to keep the holidays merry & bright

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New Atlas selects useful apps for surviving the holiday season

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The holiday season is demanding, but mobile technology can help. Here's our picks for smartphone and tablet apps that promote holiday cheer while minimizing the season's stresses.

Santa's Bag

There are many shopping list apps, but this one is particularly practical and powerful. Create a list, define gift recipients, and set a spending budget for each. As you make purchases, the app tracks your spending and checks off the list. View your shopping list by recipient or store – or record the hiding place where you've stowed the goods, so you can play Santa without snafus.

Santa's Bag is also family-friendly. Kids can create and share their wish lists directly to the app. Its budgeting features could be used as an educational tool for parents helping children start their own holiday giving traditions.

Free for iOS, with some in-app purchases. For example, if you like the app and use it for repeat years, a paid archive feature will tell you what you bought last year – no repeat gifting!

Not available on Android, but The Christmas List (US$1.99) should be a good alternative.

Fȇte: Event invitations via text

Holiday party invitations sent over social media are impersonal and easy to ignore. E-mailed invites can get caught in spam filters, or you may not know the invitee's email address in the first place.

Enter Fȇte, an app that creates and sends invitations to your holiday party (or any event) via text message. Recipients can RSVP and leave feedback straight through SMS without downloading the app.

Fȇte walks you through the entire RSVP process, from entering event details, to designing a digital invitation, sending it to your guestlist, soliciting feedback and keeping track of responses. It's the closest thing to a one-size-fits-all digital RSVP solution that we've seen. Free for iOS, and coming soon to Android.

Vivino Wine Scanner

Whether you drink it, gift it, or just need small talk for a party, wine often plays a key role during the holidays.

With the Vivino app, you can take a photo of any wine label (or scan a restaurant wine list) to view its rating, qualities and price range. Track and review the wines you've tried, and Vivino will offer recommendations for new ones.

You'll be picking out better libations for gifting and entertaining in no time, and you won't get caught overpaying for a subpar quaff. Free for iOS and Android. Premium version is $4.99.

Red Stamp Cards

This app creates professional-looking personalized greeting cards. Choose from thousands of templates and color schemes, then add custom text and photos to create a modern greeting in minutes.

Share digital versions of the card via text, email and social media, or mail out printed cards without setting foot in a post office. Pay Red Stamp and the app handles the rest. It even integrates with your contacts to keep ordering and mailing extra streamlined.

Many custom printed options come out to $3 or less apiece, postage included. The app itself is free for iOS and Android; in-app purchases are required for print and mail services. Certain design elements also require additional spending.

Slice

Slice is a smart online shopping assistant that tracks shipments, issues alerts on price drops and product recalls, saves receipts and analyzes spending all in one place. Manage those Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals painlessly, or even put Slice to good use year-round.

Our favorite feature is a major time-saver. Slice automatically pulls information from order confirmation emails, so there's no need to search your inbox when referring to a purchase or manually copy and paste tracking numbers. Free for iOS and Android.

Interactive e-books

Holiday-themed books are perfect candidates for the digital format. Instead of buying physical copies of books that clutter the home (or a landfill) long after the holiday season, just view them on your phone or tablet.

It's a winning solution for families. Kids are happy because they get into the holiday spirit and interact with their favorite characters, while parents are pleased because e-books are inexpensive, easily disposed of, and encourage reading.

Our favorite picks are the classics How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($3.99 for iOS or Android), A Charlie Brown Christmas ($5.99 for iOS or Android) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ($3.99 for iOS or Android).

NORAD tracks Santa

NORAD is the acronym for the North American Aerospace Defense Command. US military involvement in Santa-tracking has a storied history.

In the mid-1950s, a Sears department store ran a Christmas ad featuring a hotline for kids to call in and speak to Santa. Either a misprint or a dialing mistake connected at least one inquiring child with a colonel at the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs (CONAD).

Some say that Colonel Harry Shoup had a surly reception to that initial call (as one might expect from an on-duty Cold War-era military official being asked if he's Santa Claus) but ultimately it sent visions of sugar plums, or at least a public relations opportunity, dancing in Shoup's head. CONAD released a statement: "CONAD, Army, Navy and Marine Air Forces will continue to track and guard Santa and his sleigh on his trip to and from the U.S. against possible attack from those who do not believe in Christmas." Kids could call in and request Santa's exact whereabouts.

Demand for Santa-tracking made it a seasonal tradition that persisted even after CONAD was swept up into other agencies. This project has only grown in the 21st century, fueled by NORAD, donations, and both civilian and military volunteers.

Through the app, Santa-seekers can inquire about his whereabouts and follow his sleigh through the sky on Christmas Eve. Coverage for the 2016 holiday season begins December 1. Free for iOS and Android.

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