Technology has become part of what we give over the holidays. Many tech gifts are free, but they do take time. Part of this is doing your homework about what's best for the gift recipient. Are they a beginner? How do they watch TV, read, or listen to music? What kind of devices and internet connectivity do they have? Most important, don’t give gifts based on who you want someone to be, but rather on who they are today. Don't give them something you love unless you know they'll probably love it, too.
A Plan for Shopping and Saving
Use an app like Wunderlist or at least write down what you get so that you don't overshop or overspend. Shop for expensive items with a comparison app like Red Laser that scans barcodes to show prices.
For Beginners: Make the Most of What You Have
Many beginners need help maximizing their devices. Before the holidays, make sure you're sharing everything you can so that you don't buy things twice.
For Apple Families
Turn on iTunes Family Sharing. Up to six people in a family can share purchases from iTunes, iBooks and the App store. If one of you has an awesome music collection, it now belongs to all of you! This also gives parents the added benefit of setting purchase limits on their children.
For Amazon Prime
Get free family shipping and free music -- before Christmas. If you already have Amazon Prime, you can share free shipping with up to four family members living in the same household. Amazon Prime also just added music to their service.
For SmartPhone Users
Tutor a smartphone beginner, such as a grandparent, to get the most of out of their phone. Help them set up email, learn to text, or navigate the emoji keyboard. It's a kind thing to do.
For Movie Makers
When we had young children and times were tight, I got everyone's pictures throughout the year. Then, I made movies and burned DVDs of the year's memories. This takes a lot of time but will be an epic gift for the whole family for just the cost of DVDs and the cases (as long as you already have the computer).
Giving Electronic Movies, Books, Apps, and Music
Remember that you can give apps, books, and movies even if the person is streaming or downloading them. Here some common services:
When giving music, an album, books, movies, or just a dollar amount on iTunes, remember that if you give a gift electronically, the recipient gets the gift notification immediately. There is currently no way to schedule gifts.
While you can't pick a specific app, movie, or book on Google Play, you can give gift cards for those who use the popular Android operating system.
Amazon has perhaps the best gift options. You can give music, apps, TV shows, movies, and books. You can print paper gift cards from the Amazon website or even schedule an email to be sent with the gift -- up to a year in advance.
Improve What They Already Have
If you know what model of device your recipient has, you can give gadgets to improve its use.
Microsoft Surface Pro
- Backlit keyboards: A backlit keyboard means that they light up when used in the dark. You'll definitely want one with any Surface Pro.
- Waycom Bamboo Stylus: The Bamboo digital stylus is the best touch stylus out there. In my opinion, it is far superior to the other ones I've used on my Surface Pro.
- The Bluelounge Kickflip: This handy flip-out stand should have probably come with the Macbook Pro. For $18, it's a steal.
- Add a keyboard: On newer iPads, a keyboard case will give the device 90 percent of the functionality of a laptop. While your recipient may not use it all the time, anyone who types or send much email will love the keyboard for traveling or working on the go. (I always like the Kensington KeyFolio Pro -- just make sure you get the right one for your model.)
- Read SD cards: For around $29, you can purchase the iPad Digital Camera Connection Kit to read SD cards on your iPad. This is for those who take pictures on a "real" camera but want to edit and look at them on their iPad. Note: this works with most digital cameras, so research before buying.
- Film anywhere: If your recipient is someone who gets into filming anywhere, get a Gorilla GripTight tripod. These things hook onto your iPhone and let you fasten it anywhere. (Get the GripTight Mount for hooking it to a tripod you already own.)
- Improve the speakers: The JBL Clip lets you carry a wireless speaker with you anywhere. Perfect for sports teams and groups who show video on the go.
- Improve the battery: With a Boostcase, I can go for almost two days with my new iPhone. Do your research and find a good battery case. Just remember that it's good for your phone to let the battery charge all the way up and then completely drain, particularly during that first month.
- Improve the mic: For people who are serious about filming with their iPhone, you can purchase an inexpensive adapter that lets you use just about any kind of mic with the iPhone.
Where the Virtual and Real Worlds Merge
The Perfect Notebook to Digitize
If you use Evernote, there are two great choices of notebooks. While you can use the Evernote Moleskine along with the tags, I like to order custom books from BookFactory. They're available in a variety of sizes with personalized covers. My first one was a gift from my husband. Both of them let you snap a picture of the pages with your smartphone, and it easily goes into Evernote or any electronic notebook.
Personalized Wallpaper or Ringtone
Grandparents or parents will love personalized wallpapers or ringtones. Get a wallpaper app to use with your pictures. Save it to your camera roll. Make a personal ringtone with your voice. Use an email-schedulng app like Boomerang to schedule delivery of the wallpaper or ringtone on the day you'll be giving gifts (so that you can be there to help them set it up).
Gifts That Give the Whole Year Long
Subscriptions keep on giving throughout the year. Just make sure your recipient has the ability to stream music, or high-speed internet for services like Amazon Prime.
This service includes movies, television shows, and shipping. Certain books are free for Prime members.
Digital Book Subscription Services
If your recipient really loves books and is comfortable downloading ebooks, Oyster has more than 500K books. Amazon has their own digital subscription service with free audiobooks and books for just $10 a month. GetAbstract will send business book summaries and is for those who want to stay abreast of great books but don't have a lot of time. If your recipient spends significant time in the car, he or she might prefer some Audible credits.
Music Subscription Services
Evernote is an increasingly popular notebook service. While the free version gives you some flexibility, the premium version lets you upload more and have offline notebooks (which will save on data).
If All Else Fails . . .
Gift cards work, too.
In the end, the best gifts are those that show you know and care about the person. The holidays are about being together. So get the gadgets but remember to put them away and have a good laugh, tell some old stories, and drink some eggnog. You'll be glad you did.