Last-minute online gifting for apps, movies, music, and books

December has a funny way of speeding by all too quickly. Travel, end-of-year projects—they all seem to build up until it’s a few days before Christmas and you’re still somehow giftless.

But if your relatives like apps, books, movies, musics, or TV shows, there’s a very simple solution to this dilemma—electronic gifts.

Apps, apps, under the tree

Chances are pretty good that you have at least one Angry Birds-obsessed cousin or uncle to shop for—and even if Angry Birds isn’t their cup of tea, we all spend more money than we’d like to on apps. Therefore, you can pretty easily be the hero of the hour with a well-placed app gift card or two under the tree.

Apple: If it’s an iOS device owner you’re buying for, you have a couple options: You can buy them a digital iTunes gift card of a fixed denomination, or you can digitally gift a specific app. In either case, you have the option to print the redeem code out or email it to that lucky recipient. (Keep in mind, however, that an emailed gift card will show up automatically in your recipient’s mailbox, so it may not be the best choice if you're hoping to keep your present a surprise until December 25.)

The Mac App Store has slightly less flexibility than its iOS cousin—though you can again buy an iTunes Gift Card, there’s currently no way to gift specific apps. However, as our Christopher Breen noted earlier this year, you can pair the gift code with a “Tell a Friend” email for a specific app or two. (Alternatively, you can craft a card with “Make Good Choices” spelled out in glitter.)

Android and Kindle: Android users are in a similar—though slightly stranger—predicament. Like the Mac App Store, Google Play currently offers no direct app gifting option. In addition, Google Play’s gift cards are actual physical cards—no digital option available—which means that if you want to give your recipient some cash to spend in the Android Marketplace, you’ll have to hunt down a card at your local Target first.

If you’re desperate and terrified of venturing into a box retailer during the countdown to Christmas, however, there is one alternative: Amazon. If your Android lover has the Amazon Appstore app installed on their phone (or they own a Kindle Fire), it’s easy to gift them some cash in an e-card or Facebook message, though you still can’t directly gift an app.

Windows: Unfortunately, if your family member or friend uses a device with Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 on it, you’re out of luck on the digital gift card front. The only way to get app store credits currently is through Microsoft’s Bing Rewards program, and those credits are for $1.25 and $5 respectively—not a great holiday present.

Gifting ebooks and subscriptions

Books are time-honored holiday presents, which makes them perfect last-minute gifts. (If you plan to give your loved one a digital book, however, you may want to make sure they actually read on their device of choice—not everyone loves paging through 400 pages on their iPhone.)

iBookstore: Apple’s iBookstore is under much the same rules as the Mac App Store—you can buy an all-purpose iTunes Gift Card, but you can’t gift a book directly. The same goes for apps and subscriptions in Apple’s Newsstand.

Kindle Store: Amazon’s Kindle Store is the most flexible for gifting ebooks: Not only does it offer apps for reading your book on almost every platform, but you can choose to either gift a book directly or give your recipient an all-purpose gift card. Unfortunately, direct gifting doesn’t work for the Kindle Newsstand—only a gift card will do.

Nook Store: Like Amazon’s Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store offers both direct ebook gifting and ecards for its digital products.

Google Play: As mentioned previously in our section on apps, Google Play offers no alternative beyond physical gift cards—you can’t pick a specific book to gift nor can you send a digital gift certificate.

Gifting movies, TV, and music

What better gift on Christmas morning than giving your loved one a great flick to curl up with after the presents have been opened or a medley to help them make it through Christmas dinner preparations? You can pick up movies, television shows, and music digitally from either iTunes or Amazon with little difficulty.

iTunes Store: To pick up a movie, TV show, song, or album for a friend or family member, it’s as easy as visiting its page within the iTunes Store. Click the dropdown arrow next to its price (on OS X) or the Share button (on iOS) and select Gift, fill out some information, and you’re all set. A reminder: These are instantly emailed, so they’re best done on the day you want them received.

Amazon.com: Amazon’s instant music gifting can be done from any product page of its MP3 store—where you can gift albums in their entirety or as individual songs. To gift movies or TV, you’ll need to do it through a general-purpose gift card.

Google Play: Once more with feeling: We sadly report that the only way to gift your friends or family members a movie or album from Google Play is to buy them a physical gift card.

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