Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Holiday Madness

Holiday madness has arrived yet again. Black Friday, purportedly the day that many companies go from being financially "in the red," or unprofitable, to being "in the black," or profitable, for the year continues to be a huge marketing day.

Add to that Cyber Monday, which is the day people are encouraged to buy online — also with supposed huge discounts.

If one is in the market, the real question is: What to buy?

From a consumer electronics standpoint, flat-screen TVs continue to drop in price and grow in size. From reading the flyers that appear in my mailbox to the occasional trip through Costco and Best Buy, one would think that any TV less than 50 inches in size would be unthinkable.

But the tablet PC market is growing in size, too. With Apple having a number of viable variations on its iPad now available and with the tablets with the Android operating system growing in popularity and generally lower in price, it's clear the personal computer market — both desktop and laptop varieties — are seeing sales declines.

Heading over to the smartphone department, the Apple iPhone is still the market leader, although the Samsung Galaxy S III outsold the iPhone for the month before the iPhone 5 was released. While there are very good reasons for people to be in the Apple iPhone, Android or even the Microsoft Windows phone camps, there are plenty of very good phones out there to choose from.

Unless you choose an Apple iPhone, the biggest problem with choosing a smartphone is that every month, another great phone is released. Apple has fewer phones and releases them on a cycle that lets people pretty much use their phone for a year or two.

Moving on to gaming consoles, the Microsoft XBOX 360 continues to be a winner, especially because of its Kinect interactivity, but Nintendo has introduced its Wii U this year that includes a second screen. Even Sony's next generation PlayStation 4 is reported to have the new 4K video output — making today's high-definition output look fuzzy — but no date has been announced by Sony, so it won't be on anyone's shopping list this year.

If you're in the market for a digital camera or camcorder, we're finally getting to the point where cameras are good at both and you won't have to carry around two cameras. Mobile phones and tablets do take stills and videos — with remarkably good quality, considering the optics in them. But I'm still a fan of a full-size sensor and dedicated hardware and software for really high-quality images. Depending on how much you want to spend and how much weight you want to carry, there are some great offerings from Canon, Nikon and Sony, to name just a few.

The biggest problem now is choice. There are so many good offerings from so many good companies — at prices that don't scare most people — that choosing what you want can be difficult.

In most cases, ask a friend and read some reviews in magazines or online to see how well the items you're considering will meet your needs. The good news is that unless you have really specific needs, most of the products out there will provide you with good service for a number of years.

Happy holiday madness!

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 28 November 2012.

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