Must-have holiday gifts for hardcore Apple fans [Friday Night Fights]

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Holidays are coming!
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Christmas is right around the corner, which means it’s time to start shopping for your loved ones. If one of them is a hardcore Apple fan, that might be easier than you think.

Friday Night Fights bugApple products aren’t cheap, but there’s something sweet at every price point, from maxed-out Macs that cost an arm and a leg, to the latest iOS devices for someone really special, and awesome accessories that fit into any budget.

In this week’s Friday Night Fight, we’re putting away our pitchforks for one week only and focusing on great gifts for every Apple fan.

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: It’s difficult to pick one must-have Apple product; there are so many I couldn’t live without. But if I had to choose one for a loved one this Christmas, I think I’d go for Apple Watch Series 2.

Almost everyone I know already owns an iPhone, and most will agree they’re too expensive to gift anyway. But Apple Watch Series 2 starts at a reasonable $269, and it’s the perfect companion. It boasts much better battery life than the original Apple Watch, it’s a whole lot faster thanks to that new S2 processor, and it’s now waterproof up to 50 meters.

What’s more, while Apple Watch isn’t an essential gadget for most Apple fans, it is nice to have. That means there’s a good chance the person you’re buying for hasn’t already bought one for themselves, but they’ll appreciate what it does once they start using it.

What’s your pick?

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: Curses! You went with the same pick as me. I was also going to say that Apple Watch Series 2 is a great pick. It’s at an affordable price point and some of the issues of the first-gen. have been ironed out, but it’s still new enough that it would be a “nice to have” that a lot of customers will never have picked up before.

This one’s tricky, because I don’t — as I’ve written before — think this has been a banner year for Apple. Notwithstanding the fact that I don’t have four-figure sums to throw around on friends and family, devices like the new MacBook Pro and the iPhone 7 perhaps haven’t quite lived up to expectations.

My favorite Apple product that I bought this year was the new iPad Pro. And I bought it for one reason and one reason only: the Apple Pencil. Now this is a gift with qualifiers, of course. The Apple Pencil isn’t going to be something that’s of use to absolutely anyone. If you’re not buying it for a person who’s going to be using it for sketching or design work, it’s probably not going to get too much use. It also only works with the iPad Pro, so either you’ve got a pricey gift on your hands or that person needs to already own the tablet in question for you to consider getting them the Pencil.

But it would make a great gift: it totally changes what you can do with an iPad, the functionality is tremendous, and — with the exception of the slightly clumsy charging design — it’s the first piece of Apple tech that’s made me say “wow!” in quite a while. It’s just a beautiful piece of kit.

Another option, I suppose, could be the fourth-gen. Apple TV, which has just gained a pretty big update with Apple’s TV app.

With all that said, however, I think there are plenty of other tech-related gift possibilities this year that don’t necessarily come under the Apple banner. I’m excited about the Echo Dot, for instance, which I think is something a lot of people would enjoy — and, like your description of the Apple Watch, is something new enough that a lot of people won’t have used one before.

Any picks that you have? Presumably you’ll be staying up all night on Christmas Eve making sure your carefully-wrapped Note 7 devices don’t burn down the tree…

Killian Bell FNFKillian: Apple Pencil is a great pick. I have one, too, and although I don’t use it a lot, it’s great for the things I do use it for. I’d say it’s pricey for what it is — but it’s the best iPad stylus out there, and if you can afford an iPad Pro it’s not completely out of reach.

I’m still not sure about the Apple TV. It’s not a bad set-top box, but I don’t think it brings enough to the table — especially for those outside of the U.S., where there aren’t as many services available. If you already have a Smart TV, another set-top box, or a modern console, the only thing Apple TV really adds is tvOS apps — and are they really worth it?

If I was looking for another tech gift that isn’t brandishing the Apple logo, I think I’d go for something like the iRoar Go portable speaker from Creative. I just got a review unit and it’s spectacular. The sound quality is incredible, but the unit is small enough to take almost anywhere in your backpack. It’s also water-resistant, boasts Bluetooth 4.2 and NFC, lets you insert a microSD card filled with music, and charges your phone.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: Before we risk this becoming just a list of our favorite products of the year, are there any other Apple-related goodies you’re hoping for?

To be honest, as the list above highlights, there really aren’t too many Apple products available at a holiday price point if you’re not willing to splash the cash. I have a number of Apple-loving friends, though, who I think I’ll be picking up Apple-related books for.

No, I won’t be rushing out to buy the new $300 Jony Ive book, but if you are searching for something similar, I’d highly suggest Jonathan Zufi’s ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation. Not only is it a tenth of the price, but the photos are equally stunning.

Beyond that, To Pixar and Beyond, by former Pixar CFO Lawrence Levy is certainly interesting — and contains some great material about Steve Jobs. As a wildcard, I also can’t help recommend the excellent Apple Confidential by Owen Linzmayer. Sadly, with its last edition being published in 2004 it’s long overdue an update, but if you have an Apple fan in your life who (like myself) is a sucker for older, pre-iPhone history, this is the ultimate reference book.

Are there any Apple (or tech)-related books, documentaries or anything else you’ll be putting under the decoration-free Jony Ive-sanctioned Christmas tree this year, Killian?

Killian Bell FNFKillian: Well, I certainly won’t be recommending the Steve Jobs movie with Michael Fassbender, that’s for sure. I thought it was terrible.

I like giving practical gifts that I know people will use over and over again, like the Smart Battery case for iPhone, the Logitech Create keyboard and case for iPad Pro, or Olloclip’s excellent camera lenses. For the Apple fan who has all those things, I think I’d go for something like a limited-edition print of a retro Mac OS icon designed by Susan Kare.

Looking beyond Christmas, what are you hoping for from Apple in 2017? If you had one wish, what would it be?

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: It sounds trite to say, but tech has always been about the great disrupter that is hiding out in a garage somewhere, waiting to be unleashed on the world. If I could have one gift from Apple for the new year it would be related to that: give me something that doesn’t feel like simply an iterative improvement on one of its existing products. I’ve been pretty vocal about thinking that 2016 has been a disappointing year for the company.

I don’t mid whether it’s Apple leaping into original programming, a standalone face-tracking Siri ala Amazon Echo, or giving us an iPhone that feels like more than just a response to what Android rivals are doing (albeit with the benefit of iOS) — I just want 2017 to have some surprises. We started out this Friday Night Fight (which, in the spirit of Christmas, has had a bit less fighting than usual) by talking about the gifts we’d give friends or family.

The best tech gift, in my opinion, is something that feels new and exciting, rather than an iterative, evolutionary improvement over something the recipient has seen before. Apple has historically been great at that. In 2016, I don’t think it has. Let’s hope we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to this topic next year. How would you answer the question?

Killian Bell FNFKillian: I couldn’t agree more. I was going to say exactly the same thing: something new. I couldn’t be more excited about iPhone 8, and I’m looking forward to what next year’s Apple Watch refresh will bring (hopefully thinner designs and cellular connectivity). But what I really want is something fresh. I’d like to see Apple finally entering the virtual reality space, not only with iPhone but on macOS, too.

Let’s turn this over to the readers now. What will you gifting this year, and what are you hoping to receive? And if you could ask Apple for one thing in 2017, what would it be?

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?

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