App of the Week: Grocery Time

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App: Grocery Time Platform: iPhone Website: GroceryTimeApp.com Cost: $1.99

I've tried grocery-helper apps before and never found one that blew me away. I was persuaded to give this one a shot when our own John Royal told me he was doing a story on a Houston Aero who designed the app and I gave it a shot.

In general, grocery apps help organize lists and even track what's in your pantry, but it's a laborious task to get them set up and keep them up to date. I always figured only the most anal among us could possibly keep a grocery app updated often enough to make it useful. I also found most of them to be less than functional.

While I applaud Grocery Time for its unique approach, I can't say I'm any more enthusiastic about apps of this ilk now than I was before.

The basic approach of Grocery Time is laudable but poorly executed. The idea of tracking the freshness of food to avoid wasting food and money is terrific. I'm just not sure this app necessarily makes that easier.

The "dashboard" displays grocery items that are about to expire or have expired, along with a budget. Fresh items are kept in a "MyKitchen." The recipes tab allows, after a quick registration, the user to search recipes from MyEatt.com (add that extra 't' or you get some crazy Asian site) either by keyword or by items in your kitchen.

The grocery list tab, I would come to find out, is really the key to the whole operation. Make a list, add items to the list, enter when they were purchased and how they are being stored. The app then gives an estimate on when the item will go bad.

The "more" tab has a button for adding a monthly budget that appears on the dashboard and a rather handy ingredient substitute list that seems out of place inside this particular app. But, it's there if you need it.

Here's the problem: Grocery Time, while well intentioned, is poorly organized and functionally deficient. In a way, it feels like a beta version that's not quite ready for launch.

For starters, lists have to be created and items added to lists and then items must be checked before they start showing up on the dashboard or MyKitchen tab. I use an awful lot of apps and I'm not easily confused by interfaces, but that one stumped me for a while. Some kind of help seems in order for first-time users, particularly ones with less experience working with complex apps.

Also, having the expired and almost-expired items on the dashboard but the fresh ones on a different tab doesn't make sense. The budget should simply have its own tab.

The idea here is that a shopper takes the app to the store, checks off items as they are purchased and uses what is essentially a calculator with only a subtract function for reducing the budget as items are bought. It's more than is necessary and not easy to use.

And the recipe function is great, but there is no way to automatically place ingredients from recipes onto grocery lists, which means I had to write those ingredients down and then make a list. Why bother with the app in that instance?

I truly can see the value this app would provide if the interface were cleaned up and some additional functionality were added -- how about a barcode scanner for items instead of typing them, for example? It's a really good concept, but the execution is just not there yet. When and if it is, I'd definitely be up for trying it again.

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