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Mac users' holiday gift guide

Erik Eckel narrows down the safe gift choices for the Mac users on your list.

Which gift? That's the common question this time of year. Unfortunately, despite all the fancy lights, cheerful music, and celebratory parties that lend an optimistic air to the season, it's easy to screw up and purchase the wrong device or accessory. That's true even for Mac users. Worse, as technology increasingly fuels the ways we work and play, the stakes become greater. Here's a guide to assist Mac users in improving their gift-giving efforts.

Laptop

If you're seeking to gift a coworker, associate, colleague, friend or even family member with an Apple laptop, you must ask several questions. The first is how will the computer be used? Consider whether the recipient is a student, basic Internet/email user, an office professional with typical needs, or maybe an advanced graphics or video editor. Then, build the system accordingly. If you have to narrow choices to a single model, however, the 13" MacBook Pro is arguably the best pound-for-pound laptop available.

Desktop

Unless a gift recipient requires the numbing performance capabilities of a Mac Pro, Apple's new iMacs (due beginning November 30th) offer impressive performance. These desktops are stylish, reliable and deliver proven performance.

Smartphone

I'm fortunate to have used Treos, BlackBerrys and iPhones and to have supported thousands of users leveraging these handsets and a variety of other smartphones. I've learned firsthand how well different models work. Hands down the iPhone 5 is the best, even with all the mapping complaints. Android users will protest, and that's fair, but I know no family, clients, business associates or friends who would complain were someone to gift them with Apple's newest iPhone.

The real question involves iPhone accessories. I suspect automotive manufacturers' increased adoption of Bluetooth-equipped audio systems is suppressing Bluetooth headset sales, but both clients and myself have reported excellent results using Jawbone brand models, such as the Era.

Cases present an interesting conundrum. When my office recently replaced 25 iPhones en masse when changing cell service providers, I quickly learned of the strong opinions every iPhone user possesses regarding the best case. Some call for military-grade shock- and water-protective cases, while others argue slimmer models are the only realistic option. If you're buying a case as a gift, you will be well-served choosing the Speck CandyShell Case. The $35 case, available in white, white with blue highlights or black, provides an easy grip and slightly protective case that's still sufficiently slim to easily place in pockets.

Oh, and if the iPhone 5 recipient possesses any iPhone accessories, such as an alarm clock, sound dock or similar component, purchase a Lightning-to-30-pin adapter. With the adapter and a little luck, the recipient will be able to use the accessory with the new iPhone (just beware it doesn't support video output). And, as with most smartphones, most aftermarket cases will need to be removed to get adapters to properly fit.

Tablet computer

I have strong feelings about tablet computers. I purchased a first gen iPad mostly for the purpose of learning how the device worked. I was quickly impressed with how versatile the unit proved and soon replaced my field laptop with the iPad.

When Apple announced the iPad Mini, I found it tempting to write off as inconsequential. What product gap does it really fill? It's larger than a smartphone but smaller than a regular iPad.

Yet, I find myself consistently drawn to the device, believing it would be perfect for checking e-mail, reading ebooks, checking news and scores and even managing calendars and to-do lists. Now I'm thinking Apple may have positioned the iPad Mini perfectly for mobile users needing a small device (larger than their phone but more portable than a traditional iPad or laptop). Certainly, I don't think you'll hear any complaints gifting anyone with the new Mini.

Software

There are, of course, innumerable software programs and applications available to Mac users. Recipients are also going to possess strong preferences for specific platforms. But it's hard to go wrong adding Adobe Photoshop Elements to any Mac user's gift list. The sole exception would be for graphic artists, professional photographers, and other users requiring the most demanding of photographic editing tools, in which case Adobe Photoshop CS6 is the decided standard.

Tis the season

If you remain stuck there's always the Apple Gift Card.

Still confused? Relax, and remember: it's the thought that counts!

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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