Virtual Gift Ideas

These days, virtual goods are a part of everyday life. As the world moves to a digital model for delivery and consumption of products, so does the appetite and ability for virtual gifts. And why not? They’re easy to purchase, can be delivered instantaneously and are every bit as good as physical gifts (unless you’re expecting Santa Claus to bring you a new car for Christmas.) Here are some virtual gift ideas that will do the trick this holiday season.

Video rental stores? A thing of the past. And while services such as Redbox offer cheap movie rentals, nothing can replace the convenience of streaming a movie on-demand. Netflix offers users the opportunity to stream movies and TV shows, receive DVDs by mail or both. And of course, they offer gift subscriptions. Netflix is a great gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.

For the person who loves to shop by mail, a gift from Amazon.com is high on the wish list. They offer gift certificates that can be printed or e-mailed. Gifting specific items and having them delivered (either physically or virtually) is an easy process from beginning to end. iTunes gift cards are also a great way to give the gift of digital products including music, movies, television, ringtones and even books. What will Apple think of next?!

Online discount websites such as Groupon and Living Social can help you gift any number of great deals at 50% or more off retail price. Just sign up, buy and designate that the purchase is being sent as a gift. The recipient will be pleased to see your gift in their inbox and appreciate your thoughtfulness.

If the person on your holiday shopping list loves to stay in touch through cards, an annual subscription to Hallmark’s e-card service allows users to send as many e-cards as they want for the low price of $12.00. While it might seem like a novelty to old-school folks, the convenience and ease of e-cards can’t be matched and sending as little as three e-cards will match the money you’d be plunking down in stores.

If you’ve got a specific store, brand or service in mind, check the business’ website. Chances are they will offer a way to give a gift digitally. And you can sit back from the comfort of your computer or mobile device and cross another person off your holiday shopping list.

Hot holiday gift idea: Tablets/e-readers

There is no question that tablet usage is on the rise in the U.S. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 11% of Americans own a tablet and 77% of tablet owners use the device daily. And with the Kindle Fire lowering the price threshold ($199.00), it’s likely that tablets will be a hot item on wish lists this year. Here is a round-up of the top tablets available this holiday season, along with Amazon’s e-readers, some of which are morphing into tablet-like devices themselves.

iPad 2 – Apple’s tablet innovation remains the top choice for tablet buyers. The user-interface is completely intuitive and the iPad’s versatility is astounding. While it doesn’t replace the desktop computer (it wasn’t meant to), the iPad allows users to consume, share and experience media in an exciting and fun way. Prices start at $499 for the 16gb wi-fi model, which is plenty unless you’re a digital media junkie.

Kindle Fire – Amazon has recently introduced more economical lines of its e-reader, Kindle. And it’s also rolled out Kindle Fire, which is the first full-color Kindle and first with Amazon Silk, a cloud-accelerated browser which allows users to surf the Web. At $199, the Kindle Fire is a slam dunk and will appeal to those who already love the Kindle as well as tablet noobs.

Kindle and Kindle Touch – Amazon has dropped the price on its cheapest Kindle to just $79 and now allows users to borrow books from their local library. Incredible! And new for late 2011 is the Kindle Touch, which  has a multi-touch interface for those used to the iPad and/or iPhone tapping, dragging and gesturing to control the device.

Nook and Nook Color – Barnes and Noble is still fully behind its e-reader, The Nook, for now anyway. While the Nook is essentially a really good e-reader and nice alternative to the Kindle, the Nook Color has more tablet features and allows users to read content in full color as well as do apps, web, video and social media.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 – If for some reason you’re opposed to the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the next best thing for a full-on tablet experience. The price point is $499, the same as iPad 2, and the two tablets are comparable, although the Galaxy Tab uses the Android operation system. (iPad uses iOS.) Compare the Galaxy Tab and iPad 2.

Sony Tablet S – Loyalists to the Sony brand might be thrilled with this Android tablet. It doesn’t set out to be an iPad tablet alternative per se, but rather is a really souped-up version of previous Android tablet models that have hit the market previously. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the iPad and Apple’s iOS operating system. It’s just that some people have it in their head that they don’t like Apple products or they feel Android devices offer more flexibility such as the usage of Flash on a tablet.