Apple products span all sorts of demographics with all sorts of products, from wearable Watches to iPhones to post-PC tablets to desktop Macs. There’s a lot out there in the Apple ecosystem to buy this holiday season as a gift for someone you know (or for yourself) who loves Apple products.
The following ten picks cover a wide spectrum, from HomeKit lights to an MFI game controller, all priced under $400. I have kept the parameters loose to ensure diversity; note that the order of the products is not significant. Every single pick might not be relevant to you but something should take your fancy — let me know what you bought in the comments.
I’ve tried to be original so there should be something to appeal to everyone and crucially I’ve picked several less well-known products that, hopefully, the person you are buying for (or yourself) won’t already own.
Here’s my choices for Christmas/holiday gift ideas for people in the Apple ecosystem …
Philips continues to dominate the HomeKit smart lighting space with their range of Hue bulbs. This space is starting to get crowded but Hue shine above the rest for their diverse range, from white bulbs to multicolour to strip LEDs. The gift recommendation is the $69 bundle; two white bulbs and a hub.
Hue beat out competitors like Lutron as gift items because they require the least installation and effectively zero DIY skills. All you have to do is unscrew the ‘dumb’ bulbs in the home lighting and replace with the WiFi-equipped Hue products. A couple of minutes later, you can control brightness, ambiance and color of every bulb in the room with your voice using Siri assistant commands.
With iOS 10, Apple has stepped up its involvement in the HomeKit experience with a fantastic preinstalled Home app, to manage accessories, setup rooms and configure automation. You can even view your favorite accessories from Control Center; it appears as a third page once you setup your first HomeKit device. It makes HomeKit devices like the Philips Hue bulbs really shine.
I try and pick (good) esoteric items that most people don’t already own and the Fermata Headphone Stand ($79) is certainly one of those things. Introduced in September, it’s a leather stand for a pair of headphones with a sturdy aluminium base. You can also wrap earbuds around an add-on attachment included in the box.
What makes the Fermata special is that it integrates a micro-USB cable into the stem, so it’s not just a place to put your headphones for safekeeping … it also charges the headphones whilst you aren’t wearing them. The (reversible) micro-USB cable sits flush with the stem whilst not in use. The stand also includes a USB port so you can elegantly charge an iPhone next to it as pictured above — that’s a HiRise Deluxe iPhone stand.
My third choice is a consumer $299 Synology NAS (with a similar QNAP model as a very close runner up). I’m not going to deny that this is a gift more suited to the technical-minded but a NAS system really isn’t that scary to configure. If you live with your family, buy one of these for the household and set it up for them. Everyone will benefit from the availability of always-on network-attached-storage.
The NAS can be dumb external storage device accessible from your home network — but that’s really its most basic feature. You can store your family photo library on it and make it accessible over the web, host your entire iTunes music collection, you can back up everyone’s computer with Time Machine, you can install Plex and make it a hub for movies and TV shows to be viewed on every Apple TV and iOS device in the house, and much much more. Read my full review from earlier this year for more details.
Apple Pencil continues to be my most treasured official iPad accessories. With the 9.7-inch iPad Pro launching earlier this year, this holiday season more people own iPads that can use the magical digital stylus. Apple Pencil works with 9.7-inch iPad Pro or the 12.9-inch iPad Pro — detecting pressure, tilt and yaw with pixel precision. Automatic palm rejection allows you to place your hand on the screen and draw freely, naturally, with the stylus.
The Pencil is a fantastic art tool, enabling fine paint strokes and high-fidelity ink marks that a mere human finger on a touchscreen cannot provide. I’m not an artist but I love being able to sketch out ideas or make silly doodles. Apps like Notability make Apple Pencil a great asset for students too, transforming the iPad into a digital handwriting notebook.
A really luxurious BookBook leather case (prices vary depending on size) from prolific Apple accessory makers TwelveSouth; at a glance it looks like you are a carrying a big, encyclopaedic tome from the top shelf of a library bookcase. In reality, it’s a beautiful iPad case (if a tad bulky) that fully ensconces the iPad inside. Its stylish appearance disguises an iPad case that protects the tablet from all sides — nothing is exposed to the outside world whilst it is zipped up.
Even better, the iPad Pro versions (9.7 inch-size and 12.9 inch-size) are almost like a portable easel for drawing incorporating an Apple Pencil holder. You can prop the iPad up with the integrated stand and stow the Apple Pencil in a special pocket in the spine. When you are done drawing, you can zip everything up to keep everything contained. If you regularly travel with your iPad and Apple Pencil, the BookBook is the best option I’ve found (full review here) to keep everything together.
The Osmo game system is an engaging toy that extends the iPad app experience into the real world with an augmented reality vibe. The Osmo analyzes what it sees through the front-facing camera to create playful experiences based on the objects and people that are there. You can draw on a pad to make objects for a magic show, learn about numbers and solve puzzles, or trace drawings on screen to create cool doodles and copy sophisticated drawings to paper.
The base $79 Osmo kit is complemented by a series of available expansion packs, including $50 Creative, $30 Numbers and $100 Genius kits. The company has also just released a Commerce for Kids kit, which teaches kids about the world of business and enterprise — counting money, serving customers, etcetera. Read my review from earlier in the year for a deep dive into the Osmo system.
Fun for all the family, the iRig Keys (available in different sizes) is a portable MIDI keyboard compatible with iPhone or iPad. As indicated by the name, the Mini version is way smaller than a full-size keyboard and can be carried around in a bag or left stashed in a bedroom. Read my full hands-on from earlier in the year for a comprehensive explanation of how this works.
Just plug the Lightning cable into the iOS device and the keyboard comes alive; you can tap notes in any app that supports MIDI input. It works great with GarageBand, a free download from Apple, with the tactility of physical piano keys enhancing the music making experience. Suitable for kids and adults, it’s a casual and fun music accessory. The iRig Keys Mini works with iOS, Android and Mac — Lightning, micro-USB and USB cables are included in the box.
MFI game controllers are a great choice for anyone with an iOS device or an Apple TV who likes to play ‘real’ games. Touchscreen titles can only satisfy the gaming itch so much. MFI controllers wirelessly communicate with Apple devices to act as remote gamepads in supported games. My personal favorite MFI controller is the $50 SteelSeries Nimbus, also recommended by Apple in its official holiday gift guide. The controller has the full array of D-Pad and ABXY buttons, responsive dual joysticks, and a comfortable, yet substantial, weight.
The game library for MFI Game Controller titles is expansive and ever-growing. I recommend people play action-adventure puzzler Oceanhorn, the engrossing Lego Star Wars franchise and award-winning RPG Bastion; these games are good but come alive in combination with physical joysticks and buttons to mash. Crossy Road supports MFI game controllers too, if you are looking for something more casual to enjoy.
Picking headphones these days has become more complicated due to the iPhone 7 and Apple’s signals that it is deprecating the 3.5mm jack. However, some of the best buds available aren’t made yet in wireless flavors. Also, AirPods continue to loom over the Apple community as the future that isn’t here.
I’m going to sidestep the wired-vs-wired debate and choose the earbuds I go back to every day; most people and most products still use 3.5mm. That is the Rockjaw Alfa Genus V2 headphones (~$55). They are as light and as small as EarPods but tout far superior sound quality. They even come with different tuners to pick from to customize the listening experience for what you prefer. Small, reliable, durable, inexpensive, earbuds that sound awesome make a great gift for pretty much anyone.
Selecting just one Apple product to feature is tough and it all depends on what someone is looking for; the iPhone 7 tops the popularity lists because it is so ubiquitous. iPads are usually great holiday gifts but I hate recommending something that I believe is about to be updated — new iPads are rumored for spring. With that in mind, I’m picking Apple Watch for the 2016 holidays.
With the addition of a faster processor, GPS and real waterproofing, the Apple Watch Series 2 feels like a complete smartwatch offering; Apple answered the functional deficiencies of the first-generation model. watchOS 3’s new glanceable Dock and watch face gestures streamline the software experience, focusing on fitness tracking, messaging and notification alerts. If you don’t care about tracking swimming or iPhone-free GPS, the cheaper Series 1 is also a great choice. As a gift item, pick the watch that bests fits his or her style for the personal touch.
That’s my top ten picks; there’s a lot more I could have included but I think the above represents a balanced roundup of iOS and Mac gifts that kids, families and adults will enjoy. You can also draw inspiration from our previous gift guides from my 9to5Mac colleagues. Got your own suggestions? Let us know in the comments. Happy Holidays!
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