The biggest gift of the year, as far as iMore is concerned, is a brand new iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, or Apple TV. But with so many iOS devices on the wish list this year, how do you know which one to get and for whom? Well sit back, relax, and let us do the heavy gift lifting for you this year -- with our 2011 holiday guides!
And hey -- if you already have all the iOS devices you need, no worries! We have a full slate of holiday gift guides coming your way!
<img src="/sites/imore.com/files/styles/560w560h/public/images/stories/2011/10/iphone-4S-hero.jpg" alt="iPhone 4S review" title=iPhone 4S review" width="560" height="373" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-79936" />
The iPhone was the first and in many ways remains Apple's flagship iOS device. It's highly portable, always connected, has the best design, fit and finish in the business, and the largest app and game catalog on the planet. It manages to be both easy to use and accessible to first time smartphone users and powerful and productive for power users alike.
The iPhone 4S has a dual-core processor, making it the fastest iPhone ever, along with a startlingly good looking 960x640 Retina display that looks more like paper than pixels. It's 8mp camera and 1080p video camera are good enough to be on a point-and-shoot, and it includes Siri, the world's first intelligent assistant that keeps track of your appointments, reminds you of your tasks, sends you mail and messages, and does a host of other tasks with charm and wit straight out of a Pixar cartoon.
It does require a carrier contract with a voice and data plan, however, which isn't insignificant, and if you're not buying with a subsidy, the initial price can be quite high. Apple also only makes one kind of iPhone, so anyone looking for a bigger screen, a keyboard, or anything other than an iPhone needs to look elsewhere.
iPhone 4S comes in black or white, 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB, and is available on AT&T and GSM carriers, as well as Verizon and Sprint in the US. While the iPhone itself is the same, they're typically locked to a specific carrier and can't be switched between them. Apple has also kept last year's iPhone 4, and the 2009 iPhone 3GS around at reduced prices. If saving money up front is important, check them out as well.
The iPod touch might seem like an iPhone without the phone, and there's a lot of truth to that. You can get 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB storage options, just like the iPhone, and now you can get it in black or white, just like the iPhone as well. It can run the same apps and games as the iPhone, including the built in ones like Mail and Safari, read the same eBooks, show the same TV, movies, and videos, and play the same music.
But that "without the phone" part is important. It's significantly cheaper -- don't look at the iPhones subsidizes carrier price, count in the 2 years of voice and data plan and it can be a couple thousand dollars cheaper. It does use slightly lower end parts to keep the price tag low, like a screen that's still a 960x480 Retina display, but doesn't have the same fancy inter-plane switching (IPS) technology built in. But it's also thinner. Almost impossibly thinner.
The iPod touch is perfect for people who want access to the App Store and iTunes Store, and all the great content that comes with it, as well as apps for everything from Netflix to Kindle, but don't want or need a phone and phone contract. That includes kids (Nintendo and Sony are hurting for a reason), people who already have a phone but want an iOS device, and people who want a light, highly portable, multifunction device for the living room, travel, etc.
Alternatives: Amazon Kindle
When Apple introduced the iPad, some people knocked it saying it was "just a big iPhone" -- turns out that's exactly what it was and why it's been so successful. While it does pretty much everything an iPod touch can do -- or an iPhone except for the phone part -- and runs all iPhone apps, it also runs tens of thousands of iPad specific apps, custom built for the bigger, more expansive 9.7-inch screen.
For email, web browsing, eBook reading, and gaming it can be a much easier, more immersive experience, though the size makes it better suited to feet-up, at rest use rather than feet-down, on the go use. The size also makes it heavier than an iPod touch, and you can't just throw it in a pocket and be on your way.
But oh, when you're sitting down. Everything from curling up with a great movie to controlling your server over remote desktop from poolside to playing a first person shooter on the plane to building a presentation at the coffee shop, it's a fully mainstream computer appliance in your lap.
Just like the iPhone and iPod touch, it comes in black and white, in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB versions. Unlike the iPod touch, in addition to the Wi-Fi version, there's also a 3G/4G/LTE-enabled model that works on either AT&T and international GSM carriers, and a CDMA version on Verizon.
For people new to computers, for kids or seniors more comfortable with the bigger screen, for those who need more than a small mobile screen but nothing as complex as a laptop, the iPad is an excellent choice.
And for the first time, Apple has kept the previous year's iPad
Although the iPod nano looks like an iOS device -- especially with the 2011 software update -- it doesn't really run iOS and can't run App Store apps and games. It can play iTunes music, however, as well as FM radio and several other handy, ultra-portable things like a pedometer.
It's not as expensive as a full iOS device, however, and clips easily to your clothes to take with you on everything from a walk to a workout at the gym. It can also be worn as a watch, thanks to a variety of accessory makers, and Apple has recently added a bunch of great new clock faces for just that, including Micky Mouse!
Apple TV is perfect for anyone who has a large iTunes library, and/or an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad and wants an easy way to get all their TV, movies, music, and even apps and games onto their big screen HDTV. You can easily stream anything from iTunes and most everything from your iOS devices to an Apple TV over Wi-Fi. Start watching a show or playing a game on your iPhone, come home, hit the AirPlay button and keep watching or playing right on your television. It really is just that easy.
Even if you don't have iTunes or an iOS device, Apple TV is an incredibly simple way to watch YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, and iTunes rentals on your television.