With Christmas almost upon us, we look at some technology-focused gift ideas to suit a range of budgets.
Xero Online Accounting Software
Suitable for: Time-poor small business owner.
Price: $49 a month or $499 a year (excluding GST).
More info: www.xero.com
Xero co-founder Rod Drury's strategy when setting up the software-as-a-service business was always to offer a solution that saved small business people time. He has succeeded. My experience with Xero over the past year is that it has cut out dozens of hours of dreary book-keeping chores.
Seasoned tech entrepreneur Drury's global ambitions mean Xero is a well-resourced company with a strong team of software developers who are constantly improving this web-based product. Pencil-heads can even use it to check their finances on an iPhone or BlackBerry.
It may not be the sexiest gift, but if there's a small business person in your life you'd like to see more of next year, buy them a Xero subscription for Christmas.
Microsoft Wireless Mouse and Keyboard
Suitable for: Computer users who don't own desks, the accident-prone and the short-tempered.
Price: The all-surfaces Explorer Mini Mouse is $99 at Dick Smith. Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse sets cost between $79 and $199.
More info: www.microsoft.com
With summer here, like me, you've no doubt asked yourself the rhetorical question: "Wouldn't life be so much better if my computer mouse worked properly on the barbecue table?"
Microsoft has a wireless mouse it says works on virtually any surface, including rough wood, granite and carpet. Who needs a desk, let alone a mouse pad?
And while you're at the Microsoft shop, throw a wireless keyboard into your shopping trolley too. My experience is the ergonomically designed versions in the range really do improve things for the all-day typist.
At the same time your barbecue table will remain uncluttered by cords, and laptop destruction through coffee and wine spillage becomes less of a threat, as does the potential damage to an expensive computer caused by smashing the keyboard in frustration when a software program crashes for the third time in a day.
TomTom XL sat nav
Suitable for: Intrepid travellers.
Price: $378 at Dick Smith.
More info: www.tomtom.com
In-car GPS navigation systems have blossomed over the past couple of years in terms of performance and value for money. The TomTom XL is a great mid-range option which should help even the most directionally impaired become unlost.
Plug the device into your PC before you travel to download overseas maps or add a silly voice audio track (John Cleese is a popular choice). Those with community spirit can even help make the world of digital cartography a better place by logging any errors and road changes they encounter through TomTom's online Map Share service.
Evil geniuses take note, however: Map Share is not a mechanism for attempting to cut traffic queues to your favourite holiday destination. Claims such as "the road to Pauanui has been permanently closed due to meteorite damage" will be verified through a physical inspection by TomTom's mapping contractors before being circulated to other users.
One of this year's tech gadget phenomena has been the rise of the "netbook". Prolonged staring at the tiny screens may strain your eyes, and the crammed-in keyboards make for clumsy typing, but these devices have found their niche in the market.
The Dell Mini 9 and the HP Mini 1000 - both running Windows XP - are not the cheapest netbooks on offer, but both are sturdily put together and are solid performers with good technical specifications.
Their size make netbooks a great option for travellers, or for mobile web surfing and email checking around the house if you have wi-fi access set up.
And the devices are a great geek fashion accessory for those who want something a bit more technological than a chihuahua to carry in their handbag.
CMC Markets mobile trading account
Suitable for: The seasoned trader who also enjoys fresh air.
Price: How much are you prepared to wager?
More info: www.cmcmarkets.co.nz
With global financial markets in turmoil, what more exciting time could there be to test your mettle as a share, commodities, foreign exchange or derivatives trader? But it's also summer, so not the time to be stuck indoors staring at boring charts on a PC screen.
Trading platform company CMC Markets has the perfect compromise: its mobile phone-based Mobile Market Maker solution, which lets clients check their open positions from the beach, or close a few trades on the bus ride into work.
While trading volumes on the NZX have been languishing in recent months, CMC says its activity levels have been going up, and it recorded "a phenomenal amount of trading" on the New Zealand dollar during October.
General manager Sargon Elias says most of CMC's clients do their serious trading sitting in front of a PC, but they are increasingly enjoying the peace of mind offered by the mobile platform to keep an eye on their positions while they're out and about.
Suitable for: The small, isolated country looking for an economic fillip.
Price: $1 billion to $3 billion should do it.
More info: www.speedtest.net
Boosting broadband speeds by improving our national infrastructure making more, and faster, connections to the rest of the world is a recipe for New Zealand's economic success.
World-class connectivity to the rest of the planet would open up significant trading opportunities for the type of innovation-based, high-value "weightless" goods and services New Zealanders have a reputation for developing and delivering.
AUT Technology Park chief executive summed up the disappointing state of our international broadband links nicely last month when he said: "We're deliberately disempowering ourselves in this country ... It's just ridiculous. If it was your own domestic situation you wouldn't tolerate still having a gas light in your house, would you? So why are we still doing that with broadband?"
Note to Santa and John Key: Good broadband connectivity is what we really want for Christmas.