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First Look: Cha-Ching Touch for iPhone

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0-cha-chingtouchThere are plenty of offerings in the App Store to track your finances on the go. So Midnight Apps’ Cha-Ching Touch is just another addition to a crowded space then, right? Not exactly. Besides bringing their stunning user interface and ease of use to the iPhone/iPod touch, Cha-Ching Touch is also location aware, which makes logging transactions that much simpler! Oh, and then there’s the added benefit of being able to sync with the desktop version of Cha-Ching too. Interested? Here’s a peek at what you can look forward to once it is released in the coming weeks.

Budgeting

I think it’s safe to say that Cha-Ching Touch easily tracks your expenditures — as do all the apps in this space. So one standout feature for me is the budgeting. Entering the total amount you have to work with for the month gets you started. From there you have over three dozen useful categories to choose from, to allocate your funds and track spending. (‘App Store’ is one of the budget categories…probably one that many of us could use, eh?) If you need to add a category that is absent — I added ‘business meals’ — you can do so in the settings. There’s an overall budgetary meter showing how much you’re in the black (or red), and then each of the categories has a similar meter as well. Budgeting in Cha-Ching Touch can quickly show you where all that extra money goes each month, if you’re not already aware.

Payees

At first I was a bit annoyed at the necessity to add each of the Payees I need. Sure, I’ve got some regular payees like my mortgage (yeah, I’m one of the suckers actually paying their mortgage…), the grocery store, Target, etc., but there are so many more that tend to be one-offs or rarely patronized. I should have known better than to worry, Midnight Apps has thought it all through already.

What I’ve found, is that when I need to log a new transaction and I haven’t yet created the Payee, it’s ridiculously quick to do so — and it should be, because presumably you’ll add the new Payee as you make a purchase at that place. Then the next time you need to use that Payee, it’s even quicker and completely painless to add a new transaction. You can also mark them as favorites, which will come in handy as your list grows (quickly) out of control.

Location awareness (especially useful on the 3G with GPS) comes into play with the Payees as well. Assuming you add the transaction — and the Payee for the first time — at the actual location, you can attach the current location to your Payee. So the next time you’re there you just let Cha-Ching Touch tell you which Payees are nearby and select the one you need. This is a nice feature, but I do see room for improvement. For instance, there are about 6 Conoco gas stations between my home and work that I may stop at, and setting a single location for my Conoco Payee doesn’t help much. I’ve already submitted the idea to mimic the functionality of OmniFocus (for iPhone), where you can tag the location as a business search to be dynamic, rather than hard coding a single place. No idea if this’ll happen in the official release, but I think it would greatly increase the usefulness of the location feature.

The only downside I found with using Payees, is that you can assign them categories (which are tied to your Budgets), and sometimes a single category doesn’t do the trick. In this case, you’ll need to add the Payee more than once, each time giving it a different category (which are differentiated by nice little icons). If you want to fully utilize the Budgets feature, this may be a necessary step, and while a tad clunky, it’s really not too painful.

Gallery

Syncing

The forthcoming version 2 of Cha-Ching for Mac is still in beta, and you can check it out here. If you don’t use Cha-Ching on your desktop, you can still utilize Cha-Ching Touch to manage your finances on the go — they certainly function independently of one another. Assuming however, that your desktop is the main platform for keeping all of your master records, you may be manually entering transactions on a finance app for your iPhone, and then again later on your Mac in another application. But if you are a current (or prospective) Cha-Ching user, the ability to sync the two (which comes in version 2) is fantastic! Enter a transaction once, return to your Mac, sync the two, and move on with your life.

Beta/Release

Enough rambling, you say? Ok, here’s what you need to know to get Cha-Ching Touch. It’s still in closed beta testing, but you can head over to the Midnight Apps preview page and sign up to be notified when it’s baked and ready to serve. (There’s also a Midnight Apps Twitter account if you’re into that sort of thing.) In the meantime, you may want to give the desktop version of Cha-Ching a try, and see how you like it — and if you’re a current user, you may find the version 2 interface is far better than the original, at least that’s my opinion.

13 Responses to “First Look: Cha-Ching Touch for iPhone”

  1. I never understood the desire to automatically import transactions from banks and such.

    For me, the act of entering those transactions allows me to audit my statements and keep track of my accounts. If I wanted to blindly trust what my various financial institutions do with my accounts, I can do that without needing a third party piece of software.

    This program is very intriguing and I’m looking forward to giving it and it’s desktop companion a workout.

  2. I love mint.com but unfortunately there is no way to track “pending” purchases which means you don’t actually know how much you have spent until transactions have actually cleared through your bank.

    I’m certain that Mint will eventually add this functionality… It’s probably their most requested feature.

  3. Looks nice, but so does Pennies (which, for me, was flawed and largely useless). Personally, I’ll be waiting a while to see how it takes off. Cha-Ching’s desktop track record is mixed. It’s been a 2.0 beta since last year’s MacHeist. I understand a lot changed with the SDK and App Store and see why they would focus some attention on integration. It still gives me pause. And given it’s a financial app, I am even more reticent. Having recently lost my Touch, you can never be too certain with these devices. With 1password (layers of protection) and Mint (passivity), I felt a little less anxiety over my data getting compromised, but not much. I still worry. For financial apps, I will have to be 200% certain about the security of my data.

  4. I agree mint is limited since you can’t enter pending transactions. If Cha-Ching 2.0 adds smart import rules and reporting I’ll be in heaven. I can live without direct download if I have to.

  5. Nice write up NIck.

    I wanted to respond to a few points made in comments..

    One of the biggest advantages of Cha-Ching is the ability to constantly know exactly how much you have available in your accounts. Any piece of software that “automatically” downloads transactions for you does not give you that picture.

    I love mint.com but unfortunately there is no way to track “pending” purchases which means you don’t actually know how much you have spent until transactions have actually cleared through your bank.

    With Cha-Ching Touch, we have removed that barrier by allowing you to easily and quickly enter purchases in just seconds at the actual point of sale.

    Also with regards to payees… the category you assign to a payee is only used as the default and can be changed by editing a transactions detail after it has been entered. So you dont actually have to create a new payee just to add a different category to a transaction :)

    We are very excited about our application and can’t wait to get it live in the store :)

  6. I must say, I’m throughly impressed with Cha-Ching and what Midnight Apps has done. But, I have to agree with Matthew. Until Mint came along, I never realized just how more I prefer to have all of my transaction data entered for me automagically. It’s much easier to not have to think about it. Entering your own transaction data is such a constant chore that I doubt I would enter a transaction every single time I time I opened my wallet. And then I’d have to waste lots of time entering the transactions I forgot to enter.

  7. Boy those screens look beautiful. Also nice to see someone taking advantage of location awareness. Can’t wait to try it. Matthew summarized my perspective on Mac finance apps pretty well.

  8. @Brajeshwar I’m not aware of their plans, but hopefully if they’re monitoring this post we’ll get some sort of answer…

    @Matthew the data entry is actually fairly minimal after you add a Payee. As mentioned, I was concerned with this initially, but for me at least, it was really a non issue. (perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment)
    But agreed, Mint’s iPhone app brings transactions, but really no manipulation. You should check out Money Dance for the desktop – it sounds like something you may be looking for as far as downloading transactions is concerned.

  9. I’ll be curious to see how this compares with the new iBank iPhone app. Further, at the Macworld Expo in January, Intuit also announced an iPhone app. My complaint with apps like Cha-Ching is that they are visually gimicky and require too much data entry to make them useful. Automation is critical in these apps in order to make them sticky. The ability to automatically download transactions, combined with smart rules (pre-built) for categorization/tagging is fundamental. On the iPhone, we can expect less. On the desktop, we should expect more.