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Holiday "must-have" gadgets: Then vs. now

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December can only mean one thing: holiday gift shopping. In the effort of constructing my own wish-list, I’ve spent the past few days browsing through a variety of unofficial guides denoting this year’s “must-have” gadgets and gifts. I am amazed at how incredibly sophisticated toys have become, but am more amazed at how incredibly adept children have become in order to use these new toys. Long gone are the days of slinkies and board games; welcome the new electronic/digital age.


Then: Furby (1998)

When they hit the market, the nation went on a Furby frenzy. Not only were these creatures hideously cute, but it was their apparent “intelligence” and ability to learn the English language that made them a hit. Robotics was now cool, thanks to Furby.


Now: Fisher-Price Imaginext BIGFOOT the Monster

If Furby was “intelligent,” then Fisher-Price’s Bigfoot must be a genius. Not only can he walk, but he can talk, show seven different facial emotions and even back flip! At the rate robotic toys are maturing, I hope next year’s “must-have” toy can do laundry and the dishes.


Then: Polaroid i-Zone Pocket Camera (2001)

Available in an assortment of different colors, this fun camera captured your fond memories and instantly developed them into tiny stamp-sized stickers. Easy-to-use, portable, fun… Get the picture?


Now: Flip UltraHD Video Camera

These days, portability doesn’t have to mean a compromise in functionality and quality. With 8GB of memory, you can store up to two hours of video. But, the best part is the USB attachment. Plug it in and upload your life in minutes. Perfect for those self-proclaimed YouTube stars.


Then: Palm TX (2005)

PDAs (a.k.a. Personal Digital Assistants or Palm Pilots) seemed to be a staple on every businessperson’s belt. The included software timidly boasted a Microsoft Exchange client, mp3 player, built-in wi-fi and easy-to-use calendar features. The Palm TX was a touchscreen, but required a stylus, which meant if you lost your stylus, you were out of luck. With a whopping 128MB of memory (note the sarcasm), the Palm TX was the love child of a clunky planner + phone.


Now: Apple iPad

A lot has changed in five years. Apple, especially, has been at the forefront of this change. The newest addition to its line of ridiculously cool products is the iPad, the ultimate touchscreen computer tablet. The impeccable hardware, coupled with its impressive software, make the iPad a true winner. Users can also download software applications that are available in the App Store. Capable of storing 16, 32, or 64 GB of memory, the Apple iPad is the “it” product of the season.


Then: Microsoft Xbox (2002)

Not only were the graphics greatly improved (well, compared to its previous console competitors), it was the first gaming console with a built-in hard disk drive for storing game saves and online downloads. Furthermore, the Xbox pushed the online gaming trend to the extreme. Now, two gamers on opposite sides of the world could come together on Xbox Live and simultaneously survey the same [digital] war zone.


Now: Microsoft Xbox Kinect

Just recently released, the Xbox Kinect is the future of gaming. No controllers needed here – you are the controller. It is the first of its kind, integrating motion sensors and voice detection into its sophisticated software system. Say “Xbox, play disc,” or  “Xbox, eject,” and it’ll understand exactly what you say. It’s kind of like your annoying little brother who obeys your every command.

It is astonishing to witness how toys and electronics have drastically matured within the past few years, becoming increasingly complex. Products now involve hardware, software and a plethora of different features. From a manufacturer’s point of view, complex products mean more integrated, more interrelated and just *more* product data. Managing that data takes work, but when consumers add a manufacturer’s final product to their holiday lists, that hard work all pays off.

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