It doesn’t take long to figure out what high-tech electronic gadgets are among the most popular gifts for Christmas this year. Head into any electronics store, and you’re likely to see plenty of people gathered around the digital camera display.
That was the case one day last week at the Circuit City store near Superstition Springs Center in east Mesa.
Gilbert resident Hugh Johnston said he was thinking about buying one for his wife, even though the prices still are a little higher than he likes. "She tends to want them (cameras) but not use them," he said. "If I get a digital camera, she may use it."
Another Gilbert resident, Harold Kamerad, admitted he didn’t know anything about digital cameras, but he was looking to buy one for his son.
"I may buy a gift certificate so he can come in and buy the one he wants," said the 84-year-old Kamerad, adding that such new-fangled gizmos weren’t for him. "I’ve had a 35 millimeter camera for years, and it’s always served my purpose. I don’t even know what digital is."
Gold Canyon resident Jan Hopton, who was thinking of buying an iPod MP3 music player for herself, said she’s not intimidated by new devices. "I don’t have (an MP3 player) and want to look into that technology," she said. "I like the high-tech toys."
Ray DeBois, another Gold Canyon resident, was checking out small flatpanel televisions as a possible gift for his son. "My son has a 13-inch TV, and I’m looking for something a little nicer for him," he said, adding that
the high-definition pictures were "just beautiful." But he planned to compare prices at other stores before deciding what to buy.
Anyone who hasn’t shopped for a camera, television, digital music player or other gadget for several years is likely to be surprised by how the technologies have changed. Five years ago, MP3 players weren’t popular yet, digital cameras were just starting, high-definition TVs were too expensive. Now prices have dropped, quality has improved and there are so many new technologies available that its difficult for consumers to decide, said Ken Colburn, the president of Data Doctors Computer Services and well-known technology expert.
"The electronics industry is almost suffering from too much stuff," he said. "Consumers have to decide what is their highest need. Would you rather have a digital camera or a flat panel television?"
But with continued technology advances, electronic products remain popular holiday gifts. According to NPD Group, a market information firm, consumer electronics sales were up 9 percent during Thanksgiving week over the same week a year ago, led by a 21 percent increase in television sales and a 43 percent jump in portable audio devices. Digital cameras showed some signs of malaise — up a mere 32 percent this year compared with a 55 percent growth in 2003.
One of the reasons MP3 is growing in popularity is that the music-storage technology is being integrated with a lot of other devices. An example is the new Thump sunglasses by Oakley, which has miniature digital music players and speakers built in. But at a price of $400 to $500, depending on the amount of memory, they’re still pricey.
Watches that can store music and other data also are available. A music watch made by Technotunes retails for about $200, including earphones, and can hold more than five hours of music, said Steve Short, consumer education manager for Intel Corp., which made the technology that goes inside.
"There have been MP3 watches before this, but they were bulky," he said. "This is really the first stylish watch."
High-definition televisions are becoming more popular because the prices have dropped and also because more programming is available. In addition to television screens of all sizes, there are high-definition DVDs and high-definition DVD players for consumers to choose from, Colburn said. And LCD and DLP, a technology developed by Texas Instruments, are offering competition in the high-definition display market for plasma screens.
"There are so many sources of high-definition signals, so there is a big push from small to large displays," he said. "The age of the flat panel is definitely upon us."