This issue of Network World features the 2010 edition of Cool Yule Tools. For the last 11 years, I've been collecting, reviewing and highlighting the coolest electronic (and geeky) products for the holiday season. This year is no different; we tried more than 140 products and present our findings in print and online.
Through this process, I've learned some valuable lessons about consumer technology this year, and want to share some of these insights.
1) The iPad is king: A lot of the products that came in this year were variations on a familiar theme -- digital cameras with higher megapixels, computers with more memory and larger screens and so on. The only product that helped create a new market and category was Apple's iPad -- so much so that we created a new category for all of its accessories. Some may argue that the iPad is nothing more than an oversized iPod Touch, and in some respects it is, but the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. I'm not willing to say that it's a "magical" device like Steve Jobs often says, but I am a big fan of the iPad, and know with certainty that it will be at the top of many people's gift lists.
2) Lots of entertainment accessories out there: I almost got rid of the portable entertainment category and just renamed it "Headphones", because there aren't many portable devices other than the iPod and iPad that provide portable entertainment this year. In addition, portable speakers are very hot this year, including my favorite system, the iHome iA100 ($200), which offers portable speakers for the iPad, iPhone and an iPod. The system also includes Bluetooth connectivity that can stream audio from a Bluetooth device to its speakers, or you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker phone. Throw in an alarm clock and the iA100 becomes a really usable in-home system.
3) Some devices may seem cool, but they don't make great gifts: Sure, at some point the Macally SwipeIT Secure Credit Card Terminal for iPhone and iPod touch might be interesting, but it's not going to be on many people's holiday wish lists. Part of the "fun" in this gift guide process is determining whether gear sent to me during the normal Cool Tools year would also apply towards gifts. I've been guilty in the past of recommending networking gear that I think would make a great gift, but would get you an odd look if you gave it to Grandma. My best advice when you're looking through our guide: Know your gift recipient well.
4) I never get everything done on time: Every year I try my best to complete the guide on time, and I always have leftover products that I want to try, but Father Time always beats me. Still, the nature of the online gift guide means that I can update the articles over the next few weeks as I catch up (no, I'm not accepting other products). So don't just read the guide today and forget about it -- check back through the holiday season to see updates and new items, right before Black Friday, when the real action begins. Be sure to check out our Cool Yule Tools Facebook Fan Page as well, where we will give more updates throughout the season.
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