This. App. Is. Brilliant.
Apps like CardStar by Mesa Dynamics are the reason so many people are enamored with the iPhone. The iPhone brought stunning technology to the masses, with its easily manipulated touch interface and Internet portability, with its laptop functionalities condensed into one tiny package of shiny black and chrome lined beauty. CardStar takes advantage of this stunning technology by taking a simple, functional, and convenient idea and transforming it into an app that is sure to turn heads, and bug eyes, with a slightly quizzical expression as your friends think, “that’s such a great idea.”
As I mentioned when reviewing Cellfire, coupons and discounts and redeemable values are really making a comeback in the lives of many harried and low-salaried people who are trying to survive in this seemingly ongoing stretch of bad financial tidings. Cellfire offers a few standard coupons at a time, offering them as “deals” you may only view a select amount of times, and only sponsors coupons from a few businesses; when going through checkout at a store, you show the coupon code to your cashier so he may record the number manually from your phone.
CardStar completely extends this capability by having a collection of hundreds of different merchants – with the ability to customize a merchant should it not be present – and, mind-boggingly, the ability to scan the barcode from your iPhone. In addition, CardStar isn’t limited to coupons, but includes membership or access codes that you may customize into the system. Being a member of Planet Granite in San Francisco, rather than toting along my membership card, I can input my membership code on CardStar and then just scan myself in using the iPhone, undoubtedly to be met with stunned silence followed by applause all around, I’m sure. Now, you may ponder, “What about the barcode?” Funny you ask that. CardStar includes a “Symbology” technology that has you select a start and stop code for your barcode, and then CardStar will generate the correct barcode for you.
When entering in cards simply tap the plus symbol on the upper right hand side of the first page – CardStar will prompt you to do this. Under the Basic setting, you simply select a merchant and then enter in your membership number below, and voila, instant scannable barcode for you to expertly and deftly, like some CIA agent, use in your daily tasks. The Merchants available are categorized as drug stores, entertainment, grocery, gym, library, retail, or travel, and each category contains, on average, 10 choices. Under Grocery there are familiar chain names like Albertons, Costco, Safeway, BevMo, Win-Dixie and City Market, but also other unknowns to me like Cost Cutter, Dominick’s, Food Lion, Haggen, and IGA. Cardstar, unfortunately, does not include Whole Foods or Lucky’s or Mollie Stone’s in its repertoire, three fairly large supermarkets as of late, but you can add these in manually with the Advanced tab setting, and selecting “Other” under Merchants. I was also surprised – perhaps simply because it’s especially populous in the Bay Area – to see that 24 Hour Fitness was not an option in the Gym category. The category contains Bally Total Fitness, Fitness First, Healthtrax, and Planet Fitness, the latter three of which I’ve never heard before. Even the Retail tab lacks a few prominent American stores, such as WalMart, and Target, but includes that gaudy teenage shop Wet Seal often tacked in strip malls. However, seeing that REI was included in this category, and that JetBlue and several other airlines were included so that you may scan your boarding pass through your phone more than made up for the other deficiencies.
At first, making a personalized card is a bit confusing. When selecting the type of symbology – defined as a “machine-readable representation of data” – for your barcode, there is a selection of (Auto), Codabar, Code 39, Code 128, EAN 13, EAN 128, UPCA, and N/A (not applicable). All of these meant absolute gibberish to me and I was forced to research each of these functions. Turns out each one is a specific barcode symbology that caters to a specific function; Code 128, for example, is usually used for large freight shipping and packaging or other postal functions, while EAN 128 includes the use of Code 128 but formats the data in a specified way to include FNC1 constructions. UPCA stands for Universal Product Code and is predominately used in the United States and Canada for trade sells in large retailers.
Most likely you’ll be using the “Codabar” feature, which uses an algorithm based on alphanumeric characters, and their corresponding patterns, bars, and spaces. When creating the symbology for my Mills College Student ID, I manually entered the numbers listed under the card’s barcode, and then I had the option of selecting the Start and Stop codes, of which there are the same four: A, B, C, or D. Each letter was represented by a different pattern array of bars, which you essentially eyeball to match up with the existing start and end patterns of your barcode. The technology is surprisingly accurate; after creating my digitized ID, I made sure the end result matched with the original barcode, and it did. I was able to easily wave this in front of Mills College’s super cool card detection devices, and grant myself access to the Library and computer labs. I repeated this same card creation ability with my San Francisco Public Library card and will attempt to use it anytime I visit the library.
Despite CardStar lacking a few prominent merchants, I feel the customizable option more than compensates for this, and almost renders the category listings as unnecessary (although they do make inputting information quicker). Now instead of clogging my wallet with so many cards I can file them away in a neat little forgotten box and save their barcodes on my iPhone. Not only will this save me plenty of space, and better organize myself, but it will give me the childish satisfaction of having a futuristic idea in the palm of my hand, ready to impress, but ready to finally make a common appearance in day to day life.