Amounts encourages you to track personal expenses on your iPhone properly

Swift Fox's take on iPhone expense management

During the Christmas period there's always a bunch of new app releases to help you to remember gifts and presents. Approaching the holiday with a tight budget, the actual app I need is one that helps you to track my spending. Who knows, maybe if I like it I can keep up with my New Year's resolution of keeping on top of my personal finances?

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Jason Clardy of Swift Fox has his take on expense tracking on the iPhone with Amounts. The app has been designed to reduce the friction entering data on a tiny mobile keyboard as well as some nice additions we don't see too often on the App Store. Designed following iOS 7's aesthetic with a couple of twists, such as the Century Gothic-ish typeface, Amounts relies on colours to show categories in context in what would be otherwise a very white interface.

The basic workflow of adding a new amount is present throughout the interface with a central button on the tab bar à la Instagram. Just type the amount and select a category (the only two fields required) or change de date, append a picture or add some notes if you prefer.

At this point I would normally criticise the amount of taps required to add a new expense, but I feel I need to go easy this time. My only nitpick is that the numerical keyboard only types cents. Tapping on the number one key will translate to one penny and not to one British pound (kudos for recognising my currency though!). More often than not my purchases are going to be higher than £1, round numbers and rarely in cents, making me type 100 (three taps) for 100 cents = 1 pound.

The reason why I want overlook the expense entry itself is because Amounts works better at a slow pace, entering all items at once. On the first launch the app will prompt you to set a reminder add your expenses for the day. Combined with the iPhone's camera, sitting down in front of all the receipts you have carefully collected during the day, expense tracking can be manageable — and a bit of fun too, why not?

Time to review

To help you make sense of the information to collect, Amounts uses a bar chart per category and time. These are very useful to identify where unnecessary expenses are going, helping you to decide that you really need to cut down those afternoon coffees and Friday drinks. Something I found very clever was the ability to add new expenses on this chart view: if you are looking at your Amazon spending, adding a new expense will be categorised automatically as a recent Amazon transaction. Neat.

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While this functionality is not evident, a closer look shows how the interface tint colours change to blend with the category selected. The plus sign to enter a new expense will change to a pastel colour to indicate a new transaction will be included on the category of this colour.

Perhaps this is the reason for the colour palette chosen, not as bright and garish as other iOS 7 stock apps but definitely less pastel than what the icon would suggest. By the way, that's a great-looking icon. You can customise to some level the type of categories included thanks to a generous selection of 70 glyphs for category icons such as food & drink, shopping, transport or home as well as the colours. The selection is limited to only 16 colours, which might not be of your liking. I think this is a necessary compromise, as category colours need to have enough contrast with the white when they are used as tint for interface elements in category views.

Amounts gets credit for bringing a couple of good ideas to a category full of competent alternatives and a custom look that doesn't make it look like another cookie-cutter iOS 7 app. The big issue for developers of apps with small databases is the option to export entries to a desktop friendly format, which nobody is really doing. I'm keen on the slow pace approach taken, as I'll be more likely to add my expenses in one go every day if someone reminds me, which is what Amounts does.