First came the record player. Then the 8-track. Then the cassette. Then the CD. Then the MP3. Then the iPod. If technological innovation has shown us anything in the last few decades, it’s that no technology is safe forever. Eventually something new is going to come around and replace it.
The new of today is the old of tomorrow. Especially in the tech world. And more today than ever. This holiday season, whether shopping for yourself or a loved one, you’ll find an array of dazzling new gadgets and apps—many designed to replace gizmos we only just started taking for granted.
To be sure, some of this stuff is pricey, but some of it is free—assuming you’ve already shelled out the cash for the tablet or smart phone to run it with. And even the products that cost a bundle are, in most cases, cheaper than the things they replaced. Here are our seven holiday gift picks.
The Old Way: Stereo
Replaced By: JAMBOX
When’s the last time you actually had fun setting up a stereo? All those wires, all those speakers, all those unintelligible instructions. Well, no more. The latest crop of stereos hook into your music players wirelessly, usually using Bluetooth to communicate with whatever’s spitting out the music. And best yet, because they’re wireless, they’re also portable. The most potent of the bunch is JAMBOX, a speaker that can use Bluetooth or a hard-wire. It’s no bigger than a mason’s brick, but its sound is as rich as your recording of Tchaikovsky deserves. Oh, and did we mention it doubles as a speakerphone? Whatever rig you’re using now can’t do that, no matter how many wires it has.
The Old Way: iTunes
Replaced By: Spotify
Not long ago, the iTunes Store revolutionized the way we thought about music. All those songs! So cheap! To own forever! But next to Spotify, iTunes—and even Internet radio service Pandora—looks positively ancient. Spotify has a heaping of the songs iTunes does, but you don’t have to pay for any of them. Listen to them anytime you want from any computer for free. Yes, an ad plays every few songs, and, yes, you can pay $5 or $10 per month to make them go away. But don’t let that obscure you from the innovation here: Music you had to buy? As outdated as the CDs you used to buy it on.
Price: Free with ads. $5 per month for no ads. $10 per month for no ads, ability to listen offline, and the chance to stream Spotify on your smartphone.
The Old Way: Whatever e-reader you already have
Replaced By: iPad 2
Why choose one e-reader when you can have all of them on the same device? Sure, somebody gave you a Kindle for your birthday two years ago. And yes, somebody on the other side of the family gave you a Nook last Christmas not knowing you already had a Kindle. But each device has a separate store with different libraries of books—how are you supposed to keep straight which books are available in which stores? With the iPad, you don’t have to choose. It lets you access the Kindle and Nook stores through their respective apps, and tosses in Apple’s own iBooks library for good measure. The one drawback is that you have to stare at the iPad’s glow instead of the Kindle and Nook’s more tame screens. But you’ve probably gotten so used to staring at a computer you won’t even notice. Especially not while you’re basking in a digital library aggregated from three different sources. Consolidate your reading by expanding your options
Price: $499 and up.
The Old Way: Flip cam
Replaced By: Any smartphone or DSLR camera
It’s not a stretch to say that smartphones have put Flip cams out of business because smartphones have literally put Flip cams out of business. Those inexpensive personal video cameras that were all the rage a few years ago became useless after phones started including video cameras that were just as good. The new iPhone has an excellent camera built in, as does HTC’s Evo and Sensation models. Even high quality video—as in good enough to use professionally—can now be had for a relatively affordable price in a digital SLR camera. (Um, remember when cameras were for taking still pictures?) A Canon Rebel T2i should do you just fine, offering HD video alongside its high-res photos. No longer will you have to remember to bring a video camera to a family event—chances are you’ll already have it with you, either in your pocket or strung around your neck.
Price: iPhone: $199-299 with a contract at Verizon or AT&T. HTC Evo: $99 with a contract at Sprint. HTC Sensation: $99 with a contract at T-Mobile. Canon Rebel T2i: $799.99 with a lens kit.
HAND-HELD GAME SYSTEM
The Old Way: Gameboy
Replaced By: iPod Touch
We think of the iPod as all sorts of things before we think of it as a video game console. But in many ways that’s what it (and its iPhone and iPad cousins) does best—and it’s more than just Angry Birds. Some of the best video games on the market happen to be on the iPod and happen to cost a fraction of the $50+ you’d pay for an XBox game. There’s Rage HD, a first-person-shooter that any adolescent boy would be proud to play; Madden Football, just like on a real console; and even classics like Sonic the Hedgehog. And, fine, Angry Birds, too.
Price: $230 and up.
The Old Way: USB Key
Replaced By: Dropbox
USB keys have gotten to be so inexpensive that supermarkets are now selling them at the checkout. That’s partly because storing our files on a distant server somewhere has become so cheap. To wit, a service called Dropbox has made moving files between computers as easy as possible. Sign up for a free account, integrate it with your computer, and drag and drop files just as you would with a USB key. The difference, of course, is that you can’t accidentally leave Dropbox at home. Your files are always waiting, even if you forgot to bring a USB key along.
Price: Free unless you’re a heavy user. Then it’s $9.99 to $19.99 per month, depending on how much space you reserve for yourself.
The Old Way: DVD player
Replaced By: Streaming video from Netflix and Hulu
With this much media on the Internet, there aren’t many reasons to use your DVD player anymore. There are thousands of movies—from blockbusters to arthouse flicks—waiting, along with a slew of TV shows that you’ve heard everyone talking about for months but haven’t gotten around to actually seeing. Arrested Development? There. Battlestar Galactica? Yep. Even Lou Grant? Yes, even Lou Grant. The Internet has basically become your library—a repository of stories you never thought you’d be able to see again. You won’t know what you can take off the shelf until you take a walk through the stacks.
Price: Netflix: $7.99 per month. Hulu Plus: $7.99 per month.