Popular tech gifts of holidays past
The holiday season is in full swing, and there are few gifts people like more than shiny new portable gadgets. Tablets, smartphones, and e-readers top holiday lists this year. And yet, just a decade ago, gift-givers regularly passed over handheld electronics for items such as DVD players and Wi-Fi routers.
How quickly things have changed.
To see just how much, I took a stroll through recent history to identify the hot-ticket gift gadgets for each holiday season from 2002 to the present. In doing so, I factored in general sales numbers, press response, and Amazon.com sales charts to do an unscientific analysis of holiday gadget trends over the past decade.
One thing you’ll notice: I’ve covered video games quite a bit in this survey, as they are always a popular tech gift. You might think I’m a Nintendo fanboy. But even a quick look at hard sales numbers shows you how Nintendo products have dominated the video game market over much of the past decade (despite many gamers' perceptions to the contrary).
Apple products also figure heavily in this survey, as it, more than most consumer electronics companies, have led the industry in holiday gadget sales.
2002 holiday season
It’s telling that, ten years ago, the top-selling electronic gadget on Amazon.com was a DVD player. That’s hard to imagine today, in this era of streaming digital entertainment.
The iPod, which was compatible only with Macs when it debuted in 2001, still hadn't taken off broadly in the marketplace in 2002. However, it—perhaps more than any other electronic device of the past decade—sparked an insatiable cultural desire for gadget gifts that continues to this day.
But in its place, consumers back in 2002 bought low-end digital cameras in record numbers, switched to wireless home networks with Wi-Fi routers, and even gave PDAs as gifts.
2003 holiday season
Two years after the iPod launched, the iPod line went mainstream thanks to the introduction of a USB model that played well with Windows. That simple development greatly broadened the player's appeal as a gift, although it remained an expensive one.
Digital cameras and PC wireless networking hardware still were popular gifts as the world continued to move toward a wireless, digital future. In video games, gift givers preferred the front-lit, clamshell Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP and the Sony PlayStation 2 console.
2004 holiday season
The introduction of the lower-cost iPod mini in 2004 fed the growing hunger for iPod products, especially over the holiday season. Still, DVD players and low-end digital cameras continued to be popular gadget gifts.
Nintendo introduced its dual-screen handheld, the DS, this year, and it quickly became a gift favorite. In home consoles, the PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's Xbox both remained strong sellers.
2005 holiday season
Without a doubt, 2005 was the year of the iPod, with three models of Apple’s digital music player topping Amazon’s electronics sales charts for the holiday season. Their small size and big appeal—especially the new iPod nano model introduced this year—made them ideal gifts for kids and adults alike.
The Microsoft Xbox 360 dominated the minds of gift givers as the hot present of the season, but limited supply stymied widespread sales. Instead, Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation 2 hardware served as excellent gifts.
2006 holiday season
This year marked the peak of the classic iPod series’ appeal as holiday gifts, as it was the last season before the first iOS devices hit the market. But what an amazing year Apple had, selling record numbers of iPods and iPod nanos. (The top-selling electronic device on Amazon.com? The iPod [various models]).
Behind the iPod, digital cameras and GPS units remained popular, although their popularity would peak one year later, just before smartphones began to render cameras and phones somewhat obsolete.
The Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 launched this same year, but limited supplies of the consoles meant that the Xbox 360 outsold them over the holidays.
2007 holiday season
In the launch year of the Apple iPhone, demand for the new device as a gift was surprisingly restrained, as buyers favored newly low-priced stand-alone GPS units, digital picture frames, and other low-cost gadgets.
Demand for the Nintendo DS console reached a fevered pitch in 2007, as sales of the handheld easily topped those of any other gaming hardware in December. The Wii wasn’t far behind in the minds of shoppers, although limited supply dampened its usefulness as a gift (while simultaneously boosting its appeal).
2008 holiday season
The second-generation iPod touch brought many new users to the iOS platform for the first time in 2008, especially as the Apple’s iOS line supplanted the clickwheel iPods in popularity.
The Wii, the Wii Fit bundle with Balance Board, and the Nintendo DS Lite were all popular video game hardware gifts this year—so much so, in fact, that some analysts claimed that they “saved Christmas.”
2009 holiday season
In 2009, the iPod touch (specifically the 8GB low-end model) held on strongly as a popular gift gadget, although Amazon’s Kindle e-reader dominated the charts on that popular retailer’s U.S. website.
2010 holiday season
In 2010, the Apple iPad made a big splash when it debuted, making it the hot-ticket item for the holiday season. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook series of e-readers gained more popularity as gifts. (The top-selling electronics device on Amazon.com: Wi-Fi Amazon Kindle.)
Meanwhile, in video games, the Microsoft Kinect motion-control accessory for the Xbox 360 stood out as a hot gift, and the Nintendo Wii and DS consoles remained popular.
2011 holiday season
Last year, buyers worldwide opened their wallets to give tablets of all kinds, although two proved most popular: the iPad 2 and the Amazon Kindle Fire. The Fire popularized the 7-inch tablet category, with its color screen and very low price.
Android smartphones of many persuasions and the iPhone 4S also sold in high numbers. Demand for dedicated video game consoles dropped dramatically from 2010 as players shifted to gaming on PCs and handheld devices while also waiting for a new generation of consoles. The Nintendo 3DS—launched earlier in the year—proved to be the most exciting new gift for the holidays, although its actual sales numbers were relatively disappointing.
What tech gadgets are on your holiday shopping list this year? Let us know in the comments.