2005 has been a big year for innovation and entertainment in the world of consumer electronics - one of the biggest sectors of the retail economy.
For those who enjoy electronic toys and gadgets, the Best Buy chain store in downtown Manhattan can be almost overwhelming. No problem! says Steven Levy, the technology editor at Newsweek Magazine.
"I write about all the world of technology - the people, the products, and the way it changes our lives!"
One of the biggest sellers this holiday season has been the new versions of the digital music players called iPods.
Apple Computer came out with three new models in 2005. One, which was released in January, was called the iPod Shuffle. It played 250 songs at random, and was only as large as a stick of gum. This summer, Apple unveiled a business-card sized player called a Nano…
Mr. Levy said, "A month after that, they released a video 'iPod,' which is the same form as the original 'iPod,' it's got a little bigger screen, not even the size of a post-it note, but maybe two inches across, you can watch videos on. You can go to the iTunes store, pay two dollars for a music video, or you can move your own home movies to it, or you can download a television show like 'Lost' or 'Desperate Housewives.' It's not too bad. One day when I was getting my tires changed on my car, I watched an episode of 'Lost' and found it pretty good."
According to Best Buy's business manager, Tracy Malone, mobile phones - or cell phones as they are called in the United States - have been big sellers again this year, especially the new Motorola Razr.
"It's thin, the screen is great. It's got a camera built into it. It's a really slick, sexy phone."
A sexy phone? I ask Steven Levy why a mobile phone isn't just a functional matter. Why are fashion and display important?
Mr. Levy said, "Fashion is a big part of electronics. And these things are small enough that they can almost be considered clothes - wearables. It's almost like an art object. And to interact with that, and to do something as personal as talking to your friends and keeping in touch with the world - that's where consumer electronics is going. It's pleasure. It's sensual. And the Razr really satisfies those urges."
Computer gaming technology has been improving at a dizzying rate over the past several years.
Nintendo's 'Playstations One' and 'Two' were among the first runaway hits, followed by Microsoft's X Box brand, which featured enhanced computing and graphics power. One could also compete with other X-Box users online. This year, says Steven Levy, the hot item is Microsoft's X Box 360.
He said, " … which is going to deliver high-definition television imagery in video games, almost throwing you into virtual reality as you play it. And they routinely go online. You'll be able to play people from all over the world. There are a couple of racing games - 'Need for Speed' and 'Gotham Racing' - which look amazing. You are going through the streets of a town at a hundred miles per hour -- through Lower Manhattan or London. It looks amazing... The 'King Kong' game is pretty good, too. It's based on the movie. There is a guy that looks like [the movie's lead actor] Jack Black. There is a woman who sort of looks like [the lead actress] Naomi Watts - [but you] can't have everything. And you control these characters. And when the great beast [Kong] appears, you control the beast! So you can switch roles and actually start crushing cars and swatting at airplanes while you are on the Empire State Building, and, of course, because it's in high-definition, it looks fantastic."
"Connectivity, which enables people to hook up disparate electronic components in new ways, is a big theme this year.
Mr. Levy is especially excited about the so-called Sling Box, which connects a home digital video recorder, a DVD player or a cable television device to one's computer. You can then access the television images remotely -- from the next room or from another computer halfway around the world.
He said, "You take it on the road. You go on the Web and type in your password for your Sling Box and you can watch what is in your living room from your computer. You check into your hotel, you're in Singapore, and you can say 'What did I tape last night? Let me watch it right here on my Sling Box.' Or 'Gee, it's time for the football game back in New York City or Indianapolis, where my Sling Box is!' AP: That kind of technology even a few years ago would have been considered very futuristic. SL: I've been following the consumer electronics and computer worlds for decades and to see these toys come out -- the fulfillment of all this is a lot of fun!"
Steven Levy, a technology editor at Newsweek Magazine, adds that 2005 has also seen exciting new developments in home computers, digital cameras, high definition television, video equipment and other gadgets. I'm overwhelmed!