Although it's been out forever -- well since April anyway -- Apple Inc.'s iPad remains at or near the top of most IT professionals' wish lists for the holidays.
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Nobody appreciates a good gadget like an IT junkie and this year's crop of smartphones, both iPhones and rivals based on Google's Android OS, are much desired by geeks — at least by those who don't already own a couple of them. Several iPhone aficionados are also chomping at the bit to trade in their existing models that run on the much-maligned AT&T network for new models that work with Verizon's service.
Kinect generates a furor
But, one of the hottest , newer gift ideas is the new gaming system from -- wait for it -- Microsoft!
The Xbox Kinect turns the player's body into the controller device, enabling him or her to interact with what's on screen. Many see it as Microsoft's answer to the Nintendo Wii, which took the market by storm a few years ago.
To be fair, much of Kinect's whiz-bang technology actually comes from PrimeSense Ltd., an Israeli company. But why quibble? The Kinect is unabashedly cool, and many geeks want one of their very own. It totally appeals to the IT professional's inner geek, said Andrew Brust, founder of Microsoft analysis and strategy service provider Blue Badge Insights.
"Kinect really opens the Xbox platform to a whole range of casual gamers," Brust said. "And there are commercial applications for this device as well. In fact, PC drivers for it have already emerged from the hacker community (the good kind of hacker)."
One long-time tech analyst was amazed to witness the furor surrounding Kinect at his local GameSpot store last month. "I can't believe it's from Microsoft," he noted. "It's so cool!"
He also marveled that nowhere on the Kinect device is Microsoft's name or brand mentioned. "That may be the smartest thing Microsoft has done in years," he said, noting the company's past branding flubs.
Buzz continues for iPad
There can be no discussion about the hottest 2010 gadgets without mentioning the iPad. Apple released the tablet in April, and Gartner predicted that iPad will drive something like 19.5 tablet devices sold by year's end. This must be galling to Microsoft, which pushed its own version of Windows-based tablet computing for years with very little to show for it.
This year's tablet phenomenon seems to be an Apple-centric event although the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tab and new tablet PCs from T-Mobile USA, Sprint, AT&T, U.S. Cellular and Verizon hit the shelves late in the year.
It doesn't hurt that people who bought iPads for fun and games soon found ways to put them to work.
Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va., IT services provider, recently traveled with his iPad,synced up to his Outlook mail, and didn't miss his laptop at all. Wyse' PocketCloud provided easy for remote access to his work desktop.
Paul Shoberg, director of sales at Works Computing Inc., a Bloomington, Minn., IT consultant, initially thought of the iPad as more of a toy but now can't do business without it.
"My wife had one and I thought it was good for games, but it's been an interesting transition and now more and more executives have to have an iPad," Shoberg said. "It's certainly a critical tool for me because it makes task management easier."
He uses his iPad now to access email, with LogMeIn for remote access to work-based data, and uses the iPad app Things for task management. He syncs it to his Outlook Calendar and to his Kindle personal reader.
"The iPad is marketed as this uber-sexy tool, but you really get a lot of functionality out of it," Shoberg said. "It's one window into my life." Now, Shoberg can't think of any reason to use anohter tablet device for work or play.
He primarily uses Wifi for connectivity (90% of the time) and the for the rest relies on the iPad's cell connection.
New smartphones try to challenge iPhone, Android
Even as tablet sales soar, IT pros still love the latest-and-greatest smartphones. Paving the way this year was the iPhone 4, released in June, and Android OS-based offerings such as the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Incredible.
Top new perks of the iPhone 4 were video calling, a new display case and twice the amount of RAM (512 MB) as the iPhone 3GS. But there is some doubt among IT geeks as to whether they really need both the iPad and iPhone. Shoberg, for one, uses his iPad so often that he may dump his iPhone.
"I have everything with the iPad; I can get email or access my office PC remotely with it," Shoberg said. "It doesn't make much sense to have two data plans."
The Droid X (released in July) sported a 4.3-inch display screen and GPS navigation capabilities, and the Droid 2 (out in August) included a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and users can run Flash Player 10.1 on the device.
The Droid Incredible is a Verizon-only phone with an FM transmitter as well as Facebook, Twitter and other social networking integration.
But the rest of the market didn't stand still. Joe Dwyer, president and CTO of Propelware, a Lakeville, Minn., ISV specializing in accounting solutions, likes his Samsung Vibrant Android smartphone because of its day-to-day capabilities.
"It's an all-encompassing phone because I can do anything from tethering it to my laptop to reading the Bible on it while I'm at church," Dwyer said. "I'm also starting to use this device as my main camera and video camera. It's a pretty amazing device."
Despite questions about whether it can bridge the enterprise mobile business gap, Dwyer thinks the Windows Phone 7 will suit people with a lot of applications that need to be synchronized. "It's a neat device because it keeps all your applications and data so organized and allows you to do things such as sync up your Facebook contacts with your phone contact list," he said.
Cisco's FlipHD camera is a big hit for Evolve Technologies' Sobel. "It's a great portable device, useful not only for video blogging but also for training videos and shooting at customer sites," he said.
Google TV, which came online in October, also gets a lot of looks from IT geeks. This Internet TV service works with Sony TVs equipped with Logitech Revue keyboards to bridge the gap between the Web and, well, TV.
"We're quickly becoming a digitally-enabled world, and if you use it right, this type of Internet-based TV can cut your cable costs," Shoberg said. "It's the on-demand aspect of it that I like, being able to watch NBA Gametime or Pandora with such ease is cool."
Getting gadgets for the gadget itself
IT pros like accessories for their gadgets almost as much as the gadgets themselves. Shoberg is fond of his ZAGGmate iPad case with a built-in wireless bluetooth keyboard.
"It is a great business tool and makes doing work on the road much easier," he said.
George Brown, CEO of Database Solutions Inc., can't leave home without his Bluetooth keyboard either. "There's no better deal out there than Android software," Brown said. "It's phenomenal. My phone fits right into the cradle."
Brust also pointed to the Verizon LG VL600 4G modem as a popular consumer item because of its ease of use: All you need is a USB port in your computer to plug it in and gain Internet access.
Senior News Director Barbara Darrow contributed to this report.
This report was updated Wednesday morning with additional VAR comment.