Mac Gift Guide: 10 picks for your favorite Apple fan

Whether it's a new OS, a laptop backpack or a one-of-a-kind widget, options abound

A laptop case

Laptops need protection, too. Cases and bags are always on my wish list -- with good reason. MacBooks and MacBook Pros account for the majority of Macs sold. They are great laptops that need to be protected and carried securely, meaning a good quality case is a must.

Bags and cases come in a wide range of sizes, styles and prices that can fit every individual. But be sure that the case will fit the computer that will be carried in it. Some offer compartments designed only for certain sizes (like one I bought for my 15-in. MacBook Pro that said it fit "up to a 14-in. laptop" in fine print -- no chance of squeezing my laptop in that case).

Another thing to remember is that backpack designs offer some flexibility for other uses. Keep in mind that while a bag that practically screams "I love my Mac" is nice, it will also scream "I've got a laptop." Thieves will appreciate that.

An extra battery

When buying battery-operated toys for kids, my family always wraps up batteries as a gift to go with them. Even though portable Macs and other Apple devices use rechargeable batteries, that doesn't mean an extra battery is a bad idea. They can extend the usefulness of the device when away from a power source, or they can be used to replace aging batteries that no longer hold a charge.

If you know an iBook or PowerBook owner whose computer is a few years old and no longer holds a good charge, a replacement battery makes a darn nice gift. Costing just over US$100, a battery can greatly extend the usefulness of an older computer for a few more years. Replacing batteries in Macs is easy and doesn't require specialized installation.

Replacing an aging iPod's battery is a different matter. It requires physically opening the iPod up, which isn't a user-accessible process. Some iPod battery replacement services are available, but in many ways, you're probably better off buying a new iPod as a gift, given the cost of batteries and the replacement service.

External batteries and power packs are a different matter. Energizer now offers an inexpensive portable power pack for iPods called Energi To Go (available online for around US$25-US$30) that runs off two AA batteries, making it an excellent low-cost gift idea.

Custom widgets

Most Mac users who have used Mac OS X Tiger or Leopard are used to Dashboard, the simple interface that allows mini-applications called widgets to be viewed on top of the current Desktop. In Leopard, Dashboard received some major updates, including Dashcode, a tool for developing Dashboard widgets.

Full-on widget creation may seem daunting, but Apple has provided a wide range of free templates for such things as countdown timers, maps, daily quotes or news stories, photo-of-the-day widgets and more. Using these templates, you can actually build widgets without ever writing code.

By experimenting a little, you can create fun custom widgets for family and friends with no cost. It will also show that you care enough about the recipients to spend some time on their gift, with the added bonus of making you look like the most impressive Mac user your family has ever seen.

(Note that widgets created in Dashcode can be used only on Macs running Leopard.)

For comparison's sake, building a custom widget with Dashcode isn't as easy as building a Web site with iWeb (part of iLife '08), but it's not terribly hard either. And who would turn down a widget designed especially for them?

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. You can find more information at www.ryanfaas.com and can e-mail him at ryan@ryanfaas.com.

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