Last minute gift ideas for iPod owners and the gadget deprived

Not much time left before the year-end holidays are upon us. Still stumped for the perfect little gift for your gadget-loving friends and relations? Here are a few suggestions based on things we actually bought and used this year around Casa Links below are mostly to manufacturers’ pages, but I’m sure you can find all of these items on Amazon and many at the local Best Buy, too.

I was going to start by raving about how great the iPod Touch is now that we have the app store and all the many new & great programs expanding its greatitude in all directions. But you knew that already. I do have a few less obvious suggestions that go great with iPods, though.

Audio technica ath-anc7 active noise cancelling headphonesI swear by active noise-canceling headphones but they typically cost a couple of hundred bucks a pair. This year I found some cheapie headphones for under $100 on Amazon made by Audio-Technica, the ATH-ANC7, that do just as great a job at blocking unwanted noise as far more expensive models. They are also quite comfortable to wear, if you don’t mind looking like a total audio geek.

I don’t think the sound quality is quite as fabulous as fancier models but it’s still quite good. They also came with a nice semi-hard carrying case that protects them from getting squished in your bag. Absolutely invaluable if you do much travel on airplanes.

apple airport expressI got an Apple Airport Express this year to play music on our living room stereo from files sitting on an upstairs iMac. The Airport Express connects wirelessly or via ethernet cable to your home network and streams songs from any computer running iTunes to anything with RCA jacks or a headphone port. It also can extend your existing wifi network or create its own, aiding efforts to sit on the couch and surf the web. With an iPod Touch or iPhone, you can download the free Apple Remote app to gain full iPod-like control of what’s playing, too. We also set up the Airport Express with this handy Airbase stand from Griffin so it doesn’t have to hang off the wall awkwardly sticking out of an electrical socket.

giftjpgWhile we’re on the subject of iPods, did you know that instead of giving friends an iTunes gift card, you can get a lot more involved and actually gift any specific piece of content? There’s a little gift box icon next to the grey “buy” button. Click it and you are whisked off to the gift giving screen. All you need is your recipient’s email address. There’s even a way to print out a gift sheet with a code number that you can hand someone instead of just letting them know via email about the gift. Among stuff I watched and listened to this year from the iTunes Store, I’m very high on AMC’s “Mad Men” television series, the movies “WALL-E” and “Iron Man” and a bunch of music I’m too embarrassed to disclose.

Power, power and more power. All geeks need more — to keep their iPods and other gadgets charged, that is. I found two useful recharging gadgets that might make good small gifts for iPod owners.

belkin portable mini surge with usbBelkin’s Portable Mini Surge with USB is great for people who travel with multiple gadgets. It turns one outlet into three and adds surge protection and a couple of USB charging ports to boot. That means you can leave your iPod charging plug at home. It’s smartly designed so its electrical prongs can rotate to different angles and fit in the tightest spaces.

The Griffin Powerdock2 has a simple mission, letting you charge two iPods/iPhones at once. It’s very pretty sitting here on my desk in a silver tone that matches my Macbook Pro. There’s also a four iPod/iPhone model. It includes the usual bevy of plastic iPod adapters so the chargers can hold all the various sized versions. Warning: It does not support the most recent versions of the iPod Touch and iPhone which altered the way power flows into their 30-pin connectors.Griffin powerdock two

Beyond the iPod ecosystem, I came across a few other giftable treats this year. My wife needed to do some quick videos for work so we got one of Flip’s original “Ultra” series camcorders. It’s cheap and easy and has it’s own USB plug and software built in. Record videos with the simple controls, plug into a Windows or mac computer and start editing away. The Ultra has since been replaced by some spiffier models, the Mino and MinoHD. Flip has a good web page comparing all the various models. The original is even cheaper now and still pretty nifty. Our kids love it, too.

The wordpress hoodie in actionWordPress is, of course, the platform du jour for blogging but it’s free software. Can’t make much of a gift out of that. But the good folks at Automattic, publishers of WordPress, are selling a line of authorized tee shirts, coffee mugs and hoodies. I have the dark blue hoodie and it’s fun to walk around town and get quizzed about what sport “WordPress” plays. Order big, as these guys tend to shrink.

If you want to buy a gadgeteer a completely captivating yet non-techy gift, we did greatly enjoy Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show (available on CD and DVD) called “Letting Go of God.” Julia may or may not find spiritual bliss on her journey but you’ll be laughing for the entire thought-provoking trip. (Get a little preview in this video from the TED Talks site)

Finally, as I mentioned the other day, I’m hooked on Fran’s Salted Caramels. I got mine at The Cheese Shop in Wellesley Center but check Fran’s web site to buy them online or find a retail location near you. Yum! UPDATE: Careful, some readers are finding them highly addictive.

And that’s the 2008 list of gift ideas. If you’ve got other suggestions, please drop a note in the comments. Thanks and happy holidays.