In a world where so much of our lives revolve around digital services, giving someone a virtual gift no longer has a stigma attached to it. For gadget-lovers who seemingly have everything, or someone getting an exciting new piece of hardware this holiday, digital gifts can help them get even more out of things they own and love. This year, we’re including time-tested music and TV streaming services, some game subscriptions and practical options like learning services to keep your brain both calm and limber just as the new year gets here.
If you know someone with multiple Apple devices, chances are good they’re already paying for a little bit of iCloud storage, and maybe a few other Apple services like Music or Arcade as well. If that’s the case, consider gifting them an Apple One subscription. In a single monthly charge, Apple offers a combo of Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and either 50GB, 200GB, or 2TB of iCloud storage. If you spring for the $19.95 Family plan, that 200GB can be shared with five other family members. The $29.95 plan adds subscriptions to Apple News+ and Apple Fitness+ too. At this point, all of Apple’s offerings are pretty good – Arcade has a load of fun games with no ads, TV+ has Ted Lasso, and Music is second only to Spotify in the streaming world.
Xbox Game Pass
Getting an Xbox Series X or Series S this holiday season is likely going to be difficult. But if you know someone who managed to get their hands on Microsoft's latest console, Xbox Game Pass is an outstanding addition to their new console. A $15/month subscription offers more than 100 games that can be played on the Xbox or PC, and they can be streamed to phones and tablets as well.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also includes a number of other perks, including Xbox Live Gold. That's usually $10 a month on its own, and it's a requirement if you want to play games online. It also includes EA Play, which opens up access to more games for the Xbox and PC. Perhaps the best part of Xbox Game Pass, though, is that it offers access to first-party Xbox Game Studios titles the day they're released, so you don't even have to purchase them. For an Xbox owner, it's a no-brainer. If the person you’re shopping for is a PlayStation owner, PlayStation Now offers access to hundreds of streaming games for $60/year (or $10/month), while Nintendo’s Switch Online unlocks online play and a large selection of NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis and N64 games for $50/year.
There's something for everyone on YouTube — and there are also enough ads to make watching it pretty painful. Shrewdly, YouTube offers a solution. A $12/month subscription removes the ads, but there are a number of other benefits as well. If you're watching on a phone or tablet, you can download basically any video and save it for offline playback. Videos also can play in the background, which means you can switch to other apps without stopping. This comes in handy for picture-in-picture, or if you just want to hear the audio while you switch away to send a text message.
Premium also comes with a subscription to YouTube Music, the company's competitor to Spotify and Apple Music. It's a pretty solid service, and it does a few things that Apple and Spotify can't offer. For example, all of YouTube's music video content lives alongside its standard streaming catalog, which means users can build playlists that combine videos uploaded to YouTube alongside official artist releases. For $12, the combination of a better YouTube experience and a full-fledged music streaming app is a pretty good deal.
The Disney Bundle
Disney's $14/month video bundle that includes Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu is a great digital gift for basically anyone who likes good entertainment. The appeal of Disney+ is well-known at this point: it includes basically all of Disney and Pixar's classic animated films, alongside basically everything in the Marvel cinematic universe, the entire Star Wars saga, and new original shows like WandaVision, The Mandalorian, The Bad Batch and more.
Hulu offers a vast slate of current and classic TV shows, a solid rotating selection of feature films, and a growing roster of originals. Those include The Handmaid's Tale, Little Fires Everywhere, Veronica Mars, Shrill, Pen15 and plenty more. ESPN+, meanwhile, offers a host of live sports, including MLB games every day of the season, a wide variety of soccer leagues, golf, tennis and college games across multiple sports. Add in ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary library and a smattering of originals and the Disney bundle ends up being a great option for almost anyone — and it’s only $6 more than Disney+ on its own.
HBO Max might not have the best app we've ever used, but it does have one of the biggest and best video libraries you can find. Its collection of original shows and films is still unrivaled in a lot of ways, from classics like The Wire and The Sopranos to newer hits like Mare of Easttown and Succession. The service also has a huge movie library, and lately it’s offered a number of movies at the same time as their theatrical release. For example, The Matrix Resurrections is going to hit HBO Max just a few days before Christmas and will stream there for a month. Speaking of new HBO content, Curb your Enthusiasm is coming back to HBO for an 11th season this fall. And if you're a DC fan, HBO Max has all of the classic Batman movies (including the Dark Knight Trilogy and Michael Keaton's two films) as well as more recent films like Aquaman, Wonder Woman and, of course, the infamous Synder Cut of Justice League. Oh yeah, it has Friends, too.
Chances are good that, after the year we've all had, you know someone whose mental health could use a little bit of a boost. The Headspace app is a great option for adding some peace and quiet to the day. It features a wide variety of guided meditations, including sessions for beginners as well as specific exercises that focus on reducing anxiety, learning breathing techniques, increasing your compassion and so on. It also has sleep tools like soothing music and "sleepcasts,” while other audio programs center on focusing, moving more, and starting your day. For $13/month or $70/year, Headspace can be a great tool to bring someone much-needed peace of mind.
Endel premium subscription
Endel is a unique app in the focus and mental wellness space. In a nutshell, it plays algorithmically-generated soundscapes for a variety of different scenarios. Whether you're actively on-the-go, want to get some work done, need to relax, or get some sleep, Endel will produce a soundtrack to help you achieve your goal.
If you give it permission to collect data from your phone (and Apple Watch, if you have one), it can adjust its soundscapes based on things like your heart rate, time of day, location, weather, and so on. Endel is also frequently adding scenarios — recently, the company added study and recovery, and it also has something called an AI Lullaby that was created in partnership with Grimes. At $10 per month or $60 per year, it's a solid relaxation tool, and I've also found it to be particularly useful as a soundtrack when you want to just sit down and focus on a craft, like writing or art.
In the same vein as Code Academy, Skillshare is a great option if you know someone who wants to jumpstart their abilities in a creative field. The service offers thousands of classes in topics like animation, creative writing, graphic design, photography, web development and music, as well as courses to improve skills like leadership and management, marketing or business analytics. A $180 annual subscription (or $32/month, each with a free month included) unlocks ad-free classes with unlimited access to everything Skillshare has to offer. The subscription also includes access to Skillshare's community and offline courses for your phone or tablet. Finally, a subscription includes some perks of its own, like 20 percent off Squarespace and 15 percent off Adobe Creative Cloud.
Parallels Toolbox is a great gift for the tinkerer in your life. You know, the kind of person who wants to tweak and optimize everything they can on their computer, so that everything works just right. For $20/year, Parallels Toolbox offers a surprisingly wide variety of utilities for macOS and Windows, including shortcuts to see your clipboard history, capture screens shots, convert video files, download audio from websites, resize images, and and many more. Most of these things can be done using built-in utilities or other apps, but having such a wide variety of quick and useful tools right in one place can be a major productivity boon, especially for the power user in your life.
If you know someone who doesn't use a password manager, do them a huge favor and get them set up with 1Password this holiday season. It's one of the best options available: it works on unlimited devices and is available on pretty much any platform you can think of. Naturally, it features two-factor authentication for additional security, and gives you 365 days to restore any passwords you may have deleted. It's $36 a year for an individual, or $60 a year for a family of five. That family membership can be particularly useful if you need to share account passwords between members of a household securely. It's not the flashiest gift, but I wager that once you get someone on board, they'll wonder how they went so long without using it.
Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan
For the budding photographer in your life, Adobe’s photography plans are a natural fit. Adobe has been in this game for years, and Lightroom remains an excellent tool for managing and editing photos anywhere you are.
The company offers a few different plans: For $10/month, you can get both Lightroom and Photoshop, along with 20GB of cloud storage to sync images and edits across your devices. For the same price, you can also get Lightroom only, but with a whopping 1TB of storage. If the person you're gifting this to has been really good, you can spend $20 and get them both Photoshop and Lightroom alongside 1TB of storage, which is ideal for anyone shooting photos in RAW. The plans with Photoshop also include Photoshop for the iPad, so keep that in mind if you're getting this for someone who loves Apple's tablet.