Digital World: What you need this year - or don't

Many consumers wait until January or February to buy for themselves, in the hope that prices will go down somewhat after the "rush."

By DAVID SHAMAH
December 11, 2007 08:34

 
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The rush is on. Electronics manufacturers are in a hurry to get rid of their merchandise - and they have about two weeks to convince consumers that theirs is "the" product they need to buy, whether as a gift, or for themselves. What happens in the malls of America from the last Friday in November - a/k/a "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving and the first "official" day of the Christmas shopping season - and 11:59 p.m. on December 24 would, at first glance, have little if anything to do with the buying habits of residents of the Jewish state (especially the Jewish ones), but the opposite is the case. Manufacturers of electronics - the "gifts" everyone wants, mostly for themselves - gear their development in order to release products by October or November, building buzz throughout the summer and fall of what shoppers can expect to be the "big, must have" item this year - even if only a lucky few can get them right away. A little trick manufacturers of high-profile products have come up with in recent years is to limit production of an item during the Christmas season, creating a huge demand among consumers and guaranteeing top billing on news stories about pre-holiday shopping frenzy (remember Beanie Babies? If not, see http://tinyurl.com/2kqdqu). Those stories are big news items in US media during late November and throughout December. You don't get those stories in January and February - but that doesn't mean the demand isn't still there. Considering that the average American spends about $900 on Christmas gifts for friends and others (http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/), a lot less than this year's big seller, High Definition (HD) TV, it's clear that consumers buy the big ticket items for themselves. And, many consumers wait until January or February to buy for themselves, in the hope that prices will go down somewhat after the "rush." There won't be any shortages then, as manufacturers release the stuff they've been holding back once the hype is over. This means the electronics being pushed by manufacturers and retailers are likely to eventually end up on the shelves of the stores we shop at too - eventually going on sale, in the hope that those of us who didn't/couldn't buy at peak season will break down and buy what's left. So, what can we expect to see over the coming months? What latest and greatest product innovation are we going to be told we can't live without? HD TVs, as mentioned, are by far the big "big-ticket items" this year, as are the latest models of digital cameras, with the most popular models being at least 71 megapixels strong. For most people, getting those toys would be thrill enough. But there is more out there - so much more. Having just completed a whirlwind tour of a couple of fair-sized American electronics emporiums, I think I have a good sense of what the electronics manufacturers are going to be pushing in the first half of 2008 - and some it won't be pretty. Here, then, for better or worse, is my personal, highly opinionated 2007 product roundup that you either won't be able to live without - or would be wise to stay far away from! New video cameras. Next time you're at a filmable event, like the kids' nursery graduation ceremony, note how many people take video not with their video camera, but with their digital camera. Can you really blame them? Video cameras mean videotape, and mini-DV sized tapes generally last for no more than an hour at regular speed. With a digital camera, you don't have tape worries as all the data is stored on your flash card, the only limitation being the amount of storage space on the card. And it's simple to connect the camera to a computer to download the images and video. The drawback, of course, is that the video-taking capabilities of a camera made for digital stills, with video taking ability added on, can't compete in terms of quality with that taken by a video camera. And yet, people are willing to compromise on the quality and use digital cameras to take video - because tapes are just such a hassle. This year, though, the latest crop of hybrid video cameras - featuring built in flash or hard drives, along with the ability to record on tape - are widely available. First introduced last year, there are combo cameras (like the one at http://tinyurl.com/2dodxx) from Hitachi, Sony, JVC and others. Some of the cameras - those with 30 and 40 gb hard drives - are still pricy, but the Hitachi model, for $399, has an 8 gb hard drive, enough for about an hour and a half of MPEG-4 video, according to the manufacturer. Digital photo frames. There are a lot of these in stock, and I can't imagine them all getting sold - hence, they're probably going to be hanging around the stores for awhile. Basically, these are picture frames, suitable for living room display, in which you load digital photos. The photos change, creating a slideshow. Fancier models have speakers for voiceover or music, remote controls, etc. And they're not cheap - most decent sized frames are $100 or more (http://www.digitalframez.com/). Call me old-fashioned, but to me, a picture should be a picture - not a gizmo. I can't get the word "tacky" out of mind when thinking about these things. iRobot Roomba. These also have been around for awhile, and the temptation to buy a self-guided automatic vacuum cleaner is very, very hard to resist - especially if your job around the house is to clean the floors. I know people who have Roombas and think very highly of them - but if you can't get an intelligent enough kid to clean the floor, what chance do you have with a dumb robot? Not much, according to this guy (http://tinyurl.com/2d8k7j). Having seen one in action, I know what he's talking about. Of course, your mileage may vary, so if you've got $200 or so burning a hole in your pocket, the Roomba may just be worth a gamble. Ipod accessories. If you don't already have an iPod, allow me to direct you back to 2005 and 2006 when they were the must-have gifts. Actually, they still are, and Apple sells boatloads of them daily. Meanwhile, a whole gadget culture has grown up around iPods - carrying cases, fancy earphones, speakers, etc. are all available to enhance your listening pleasure. And there are even products to make sure you don't miss out on your iPod experience anywhere - even when you're "indisposed" (http://www.atechflash.com/products-icartaplus.html), It may be one of the most ridiculous products of all time, but for $90, the iCarta Stereo Dock for iPod with Bath Tissue Holder with built-in rechargeable battery is one hell of a conversation piece! http://digital.newzgeek.com

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