The question I'm most often presented with amongst friends is: "Which tech gift would you recommend for my boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife?" It's usually asked at the last minute, usually in a panicked state where the person has reached the point I could offer a USB ear cleaner (believe it or not, it exists) or something equally horrible and they'd be receptive. Here are some tech gift giving tips and recommendations that are worth bookmarking for the next time you're in a tech-giving rut.
The art of giving good gifts is part psychology and also part keen observation prior to the exchange, so it's helpful to remember three basic tenets of what makes for a good gift. Do a little bit of homework beforehand and ace the gift-giving exam; try to cram at the end and you'll risk being graded with the dreaded "Oh, umm...uhhh...thanks" expression, especially in the realm of tech-related gifts.
3 Simple Things to Remember When Gifting Tech
1. Know your gift recipient's needs and wants: The biggest mistake people make is gifting what they want, rather than actually considering what the recipient might want. This is called Grandma Sweater Syndrome; sure it's nice when someone gifts you something they love (and anything Grandma gives you should be appreciated), but it's even better when you're given something that was given with your specific personality, needs and preferences in mind.
2. The Element of Surprise: some people would argue that the best gifts are the ones which they already know they've wanted for awhile. I'd argue the best gifts are the ones with an element of surprise. Because if you think about it, nothing makes life more exciting than being presented with something amazing...but something you never expected before being presented with it. Never underestimate the power of surprise, which simply could mean customizing and personalizing the present in a way that sets it apart from the rest.
3. Give gifts that will help build memories: oftentimes people think of tech gifts as solitary in nature, but in reality some of the best socializing enablers can be from the tech category. Gifts that bring people together, rather than exclude, are immensely powerful and memorable, especially when they can be enjoyed immediately upon opening the gift. Sometimes just by considering the group or situation the gift will be unveiled can make a gift a good one.
Now for our personal recommendations for Best Disappointment-Free Tech Gift Ideas:
Gift Cards: seems obvious, but apply the three guidelines above, and you can further improve the impact of a good gift card. For example, one of our personal favorite tech retailers isn't a tech store at all. REI has gadgets galore and any time people have given us a gift card to spend there, we've been more than pleased knowing they've noted our love of outdoor activities. Honing in on a specific retailer matched to a specific interest can take "good" to "great" when it comes to gift cards.
Monthly Subscription Services: one year I paid for a whole year of Netflix in advance for my dear ole mother, something my luddite parent would have never done herself or really known about. But the gift ended up being oft used and appreciated; subscription based services can be the gift that keeps on giving throughout the year, providing a wide variety of options and entertainment specific to the whims of the recipient. Video gamers might appreciate the equivalent with a rental service such as Gamefly.
Customize with ColorWare: we've yet to personally receive a piece of tech with a custom paint job from ColorWare, but we'd imagine most anyone would love receiving their gear of choice painted to spec according to their color preferences. Computers, tablets, gaming consoles, headphones, cell phones...they can practically match any color you want. Just be ready to pay a pretty penny, cuz it ain't easy being green…or red, blue, yellow or any non-standard color for that matter.
Lomo Cameras: Yup, we're recommending a film-based camera. But we've personally witnessed the immediate fun people have using these retro Lomography film-based cameras, thanks to their unpredictable effects and playful retro designs. Fisheyes, panoramic, pinholes, and even instant cameras lend themselves to people hamming it up in a birthday party environment. And there will always be something rad about shooting with film, especially with the assortment of customizing lenses available.
Convert Their Digital Photos Into Something Physical: this idea is going to require an inside man/woman and covert operations. But if you have access to someone's digital photos, having them converted into a printed book via services like iPhoto's book printing service can be one of those gifts high on the AWWW-factor. This is especially true when gifting a significant other or your parents/grandparents, since this utilizes tech to convert something digital into something tangible. Because who doesn't like to revisit the past?
The New Apple TV: we're can't yet recommend Google TV despite all the potential. But we can say at $99 the new Apple TV is a device that just works, and works well. People who like to tinker can always alter the new puck-sized Apple TV with unsupported add-ons, but most users will just enjoy the ease of streaming content from iTunes or their computers via Airtunes to their HDTV, alongside the option for Netflix Streaming built-in. The price is nice, the ease of use is nicer and this is the sort of technology especially welcomed by luddite recipients. A worthy alternative is the Roku HD if Apple gear isn't your thing.
Kinect for Microsoft Xbox 360: because there's nothing more fun than watching friends and/or family members moving around in the most unbecoming of fashion while you sit back and laugh. The new Xbox 360 Kinect peripheral ditches even the need for any wireless controllers for gaming, relying upon a wide horizontal peripheral which houses a depth sensor, a RGB camera, microphone and depth projector to track up to 6 players at the same time. If that doesn't get a party started right, we don't know what will. Many of the current titles released for the Kinect are gimmicky, party-type games, but from our experience at the recent E3 show, the fun is undeniable despite the current so-so lineup of games (we're working on a hands-on review of the system in the near future).
Geek Cruises: a cruise ship vacation revolving around the seminars discussing apps, turning your Mac into a media center, and home automation solutions, all the while sailing the high seas en route to Machu Picchu? The only thing stopping us from setting sail is the retirement funds prices.
Feel free to chime in below with additional tech gift ideas that have proven to please recipients...or perhaps ones that did not fare so well.