CharlieCard Discounts? On An App?

I’ve been thisclose to breaking up with Groupon, Saveology, HauteLook, Gilt, Google Offers, LivingSocial, Savored, and Rue La La for quite some time. Like many, I signed up to receive these blasts in hopes of getting daily discounts — only to wind up with what’s become a daily deluge of e-mails to delete.

But, now, there’s another reason that we could part ways: A promising new location-based app called Vidappe may soon be able to give me my full fix of deals. Vidappe, available in iTunes and the Android Market, aggregates deals and discounts that you’re already getting, then alerts you when you’re close enough to cash in. In Boston, its biggest source of deals is the CharlieCard — which you probably didn’t even know gave you discounts because the details are buried in a PDF on some corner of the MBTA’s website — but some of the more than 170 programs on the app include Fitchburg State University, WBUR, and the PRUferred Card for the shops at the Pru.

Sensing that problem — that people can’t make enough sense of their existing discounts to really use them — Cornell business grad Star Li recruited her friend Steven Xu to build what she says was still “a sci fi idea” back when the project started in fall 2009. Back then, the idea of receiving an alert when you’re physically close to a store was just a dream. “I’ve made a lot of phone calls for the app, but it’s now getting to the point where places are starting to call me instead,” says Li.

That’s just one indicator of how things have changed in a relatively short amount of time. These days, geolocation discount apps are all over the place (the most recent to dive in is Toronto-based Mobile Fringe, which announced its plans for Push a Deal in Canada earlier this week), but Li’s approach is geared toward providing a true service that’s otherwise lacking, at least for now.

What’s nice about Vidappe is that you don’t have to shell out in order to save, unlike Groupon et al. It’s easy enough to use, and the design is well-planned and even allows you to suppress deals that you’re not interested in (or, so you don’t continually get a Fitcorp offer when you’re making your daily trek from a yoga class). Like so many location-based apps, unfortunately, it’s something of a battery drainer, especially on the iPhone. To solve that, the battery life can be extended by choosing between three usage plans: GPS use (recommended for walking), frugal GPS use (suburban/rural), or cell tower tracking only (driving). These choices probably make more sense, though, if the biggest deal provider in town isn’t a public transportation service.

Vidappe still has a ways to go to expand its user base and client roster. But the idea is a good service for now — and, if nothing else, at least now it’s also confirmed that the CharlieCard really is the key to the city.