10 Best-Selling Gadgets of Holidays Past

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Christmas: a time for family, reflection, and the frantic unwrapping of presents amid the torn wrapping paper around the tree. Nothing says “Happy holidays” quite like the look of delirious glee on someone’s face when they unbox the latest tech gadget, whether it’s a kid getting their mitts on an eagerly awaited video game system or a parent in love with the latest creation from Apple. These are the electronic toys that once inspired tears of joy, even though some of them have long since fallen by the wayside.

  1. Nook (2009): Barnes & Noble’s Nook arrived in stores for the Christmas 2009 season, and though it was two years behind the Kindle, it proved so popular that the retailer couldn’t keep up with demand for the holiday. (They didn’t even launch until October 20th that year, and they didn’t start shipping until the ludicrously late November 30.) The e-reader was such a hit that Barnes & Noble wound up issuing $100 gift cards as make-goods to those customers who had ordered a Nook but hadn’t received one by the promised date of December 24. With the recent introduction of a color model, it looks like the Nook will stay a big seller for a while.
  2. iPhone (2008): The original iPhone launched in 2007, but it was 2008’s 3G model that really kicked the gadget to a new level: faster, cheaper, and stronger than its predecessor, the new phone caused a huge spike in sales for Apple that holiday season. Later models continued to sell well around the holidays, but it was the 2008 round that started the trend. Of course, by now, the 3G is pretty much discontinued, since the new operating system doesn’t play well with the older phone. C’est la vie.
  3. iPod Touch (2007): The iPod wasn’t new in 2007, but models that incorporated the touch functionality of the recently unveiled iPhone felt revolutionary compared to models that used clickwheels. (Granted, the fact that portable mp3 players had only been around and popular for less than a decade makes the whole “old”/”new” split a little funny.) As a result, sales for the iPod Touch were huge for Christmas 2007, as everyone wanted to experience the novelty of playing music and games in a slightly different way.
  4. PlayStation 3 (2006): Another instance where coming to market a year after your competitor can often work in your favor, since you can hog the spotlight. A year after Microsoft’s Xbox 360 debuted (though that machine had its own problems), Sony’s PlayStation 3 hit U.S. shelves in November 2006 to sadly predictable reports of violence and line-jumping as customers vied to get their hands on Sony’s new hardware. Although the model featuring a 60GB hard drive originally retailed for $599, demand was so high that units were being sold for $2,000 on eBay. Just four years later, though, prices have fallen dramatically, with a top-level 320GB system going for $349. Bet the folks who spent two grand feel pretty dumb.
  5. Xbox 360 (2005): The original Xbox gave us Halo, but no one was prepared for the popularity of the next-gen Xbox 360, with its ability to play with your friends online and experience better graphics and visuals than ever. Microsoft pretty much dropped the ball completely when it came to launching the new machine, which sold so well when it launched in November 2005 that demand far outstripped supply for Christmas. It’s estimated that 40,000 units were resold on eBay, which was about 10 percent of the entire U.S. supply. The machine sold so well that users even tolerated Microsoft’s massive production shortcuts that led to shoddy manufacturing and the soon-to-be-infamous Red Ring of Death. More than 325,000 units were sold in its first month.
  6. Nintendo DS (2004): Nintendo’s got a long history of making Christmas dreams come true for kids (and a few parents), and the 2004 release of the handheld Nintendo DS was no exception. The DS was launched in November that year and targeted to hit shelves on Black Friday, and as a result of buzz, more than 1 million units were sold in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The gadget had proved so popular before its release that Nintendo had to double its production facilities in order to meet pre-order demand. Not the first time Nintendo had ruled the holiday market, and it won’t be the last.
  7. Furby (1998): Despite being a creepy little furball that attempted to learn how to talk, the Furby was a hugely popular gadget/toy in the 1998 Christmas season. For a while in the 1990s, everyone wanted a toy that was really a low-tech gadget that pretended to be human, though they somehow saw nothing wrong with this (see the next item on the list for more). Insane demand led to online auctions in which Furbies that had originally sold for $35 were being repurchased for more than $100 by parents who decided that spending triple the asking price on a cloth-covered motor was worth it to make their kids happy on Christmas morning.
  8. Tamagotchi (1997): Tamagotchi is a digital pet, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a very cheap video game attached to a keychain that prompts its user to play constantly unless they want to let the “pet” “die.” Simple, weirdly addictivem, and a giant seller: by 2008, more than 70 million (!) of these things had been sold worldwide. They were a smash hit for the 1997 holidays, hitting a sweet spot before video games took a leap forward and before younger consumers were able to entertain themselves with smart phones.
  9. Game Boy (1989): Two buttons, horrible battery life, and an ugly greenish screen couldn’t stop this landmark handheld gaming device from taking the world by storm. Debuting in July 1989, the Game Boy sold out of its entire U.S. shipment of 1 million units in a matter of weeks, and that demand stayed high through the Christmas season. Interestingly, the Game Boy hit the market around the same time as the Atari Lynx, a full-color handheld gamer, but the Game Boy was far cheaper ($89 compared to $189), and its monochromatic visuals made it easier on the AA batteries, virtually ensuring its dominance.
  10. Nintendo Entertainment System (1986): The NES hit a few limited U.S. markets in fall 1985, but it wasn’t until 1986 and the following Christmas season that the unassuming box changed the lives of geeks and gamers everywhere. The one-two punch of Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt on the same cartridge was practically a right of passage for kids in the 1980s, and staggering popularity of the NES helped Nintendo maintain market dominance over the home console field until the rise of Xboxes and PlayStations in the early 2000s.
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