If there’s an unexpected upside to the fact that technology seems to deteriorate faster than Britney Spears after age 22, it’s this: No matter what gadget you bought someone last year, there’s always something better this year. Of course, finding the perfect replacement when “what’s hot” changes every two months presents its own problems, but that’s what we’re here for. Looking to bag the perfect gadget for someone in your life, but wary of picking up decrepit tech that already has one foot in the bargain bin? Check out some of the hottest trends in technology for the holidays this year to get a feel for what’s new before you hit the shops.
This time last year, Microsoft and Sony had both ripped back the curtain on new Wii-inspired motion-gaming hardware, but it was too early to tell which would take off. A year and over 10 million units later, it’s pretty clear that Microsoft has cinched the lead with the Kinect. Besides offering a more innovative controller-free design, the Kinect has been hacked to allow third-party tinkering, dropped below $100 on sale, and seen a bevy of new games flood out, including surprise gems like Disneyland Adventures. If kiddie games aren’t your style — or you’re just not ready to drop the controller for good — Sony’s PlayStation Move offers more mature motion gaming with support for titles like GoldenEye 007: Reloaded.
Call it Air Envy. After more than three years of getting walked all over by Apple’s razor-thin MacBook Air, PC manufacturers are fighting back with Ultrabooks. Sure, these Air clones shamelessly cop Apple’s style, but they also offer more options and lower prices. For consumers who have been turned off by price or perceived snootiness of the MacBook Air, Ultrabooks are finally offering an alternative, even if initial sales have fallen short of the unrealistically high expectations originally set for them. Look for entries from Lenovo, Acer, Asus and HP now, but keep in mind there are plenty to come next year, too.
Yes, Apple’s class-leading tablet received a long-awaited update back in March, but the real news for the holidays is that tablets have actually reached a giftable price point this year. Amazon’s new Kindle Fire has received accolades for both its simplified interface and $200 price tag, while the HP TouchPad and BlackBerry PlayBook both faltered badly enough to see their $500 price tags cut in half. Still duds? Depends who you ask. As we saw when the TouchPad briefly hit $100, sometimes the right price makes all the difference.
Wait, shouldn’t this say 3D TV or smart TV? If TV manufacturers had their way, probably, but in truth we just haven’t seen the interest in 3D, and smart TV efforts have seen their share of major flops this year, too. Meanwhile, LED-backlit LCD TVs seem to be all the rage, having now shot past 50 percent market penetration, according to DisplaySearch. When you can make an LED TV just millimeters thin that uses less energy, too, why not? And hey, if you really need 3D and smart TV apps, plenty of LED sets off those, too.
Cloud music services
The days of handing off iTunes gift cards to the music lover in your life as an easy gift may soon be numbered. A number of prominent players including Amazon, Google and yes, Apple now offer subscription-based services that allow users to keep their music in the cloud, accessible from any Internet-connected computer or phone. For fans who don’t have existing music collections to push to the cloud, Spotify also makes a promising addition to the scene this year, offering unlimited plays from a library of millions of tracks for $4.99 a month (or free if you’re OK with ads).
Yes, the term 4G was kicking around last year too, but the networks were new, the phone selection was lacking, and not all the carriers were even on board. That all changed over the past 12 months, meaning ‘tis the season for 4G. Just keep this in mind: not all “4G” phones are created equal. AT&T and T-Mobile both use HSPA+ technology that’s really just a juiced up form of 3G, Sprint uses WiMax, which is faster but has issues with reception, and Verizon pretty much bulldozes everyone else with LTE technology that’s quite possibly faster than the hard connection you have at home. Don’t be deterred by the gimmicky nature of some networks, any 4G phone is still going to be faster than the 3G equivalent.