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Three free iPhone apps that make shopping easier

Just one day left to hit the stores for those last-minute gifts. Put these apps in your iPhone arsenal and you'll get things done quicker, easier, and maybe a little cheaper.

The free Point Inside app maps your favorite malls, showing you both stores and services.

Shopping is supposed to be fun, dangit! But it's invariably a hassle-filled experience, especially at this time of year.

That's why I never walk into a store without these three iPhone apps at the ready. They're all free, and they make shopping faster, easier, and sometimes even a little less expensive.

CardStar Newly updated with an improved interface and support for 75 additional merchants, CardStar replaces various discount, reward, and membership cards in your wallet. To digitize a card, just enter a merchant name and your barcode number. When you get to the checkout, pull up the onscreen barcode and hand over your phone for scanning. Just don't toss your actual cards until you've done some trial runs, as some scanners have trouble recognizing the iPhone's screen.

pic2shop Suppose you're at Borders, about to plunk down your cash on Brendan Benson's "My Old, Familiar Friend" (good call--best album of 2009, IMHO), but then you wonder: Is this the best price? Find out fast with pic2shop, which scans product barcodes and quickly pulls up prices from thousands of online stores. The latest version offers vastly improved scanning, yet it's still a free app.

Point Inside I've been shopping at the same mall (Twelve Oaks in Novi, MI) since I was a kid, and I still get lost in the place. Where has Point Inside been all my life? This ingenious app provides maps for hundreds of U.S. malls and shopping centers. It can find the malls nearest you, list current mall events and promotions, and even remember where you parked. It's a little buggy, and missing a few major malls in my area, but definitely a great start and a must-have app for mallrats.

OK, shoppers: Those are my picks; now let's hear yours. Hit the comments and tell me about the apps that make your shopping life easier, cheaper, or just a little more fun.