The Best Apple-Related Gifts for 2018

Black Friday and the start of the holiday shopping seasons are nearly upon us. If you’re looking for gift ideas for your Apple-using loved ones, we have a few suggestions that are guaranteed to be popular.

Apple Watch

The new Apple Watch Series 4 may be the gift hit of the season as adult gift-guide-Apple-Watch-Series-4-fallchildren buy it for aging parents. That’s happening due to the Apple Watch’s health monitoring capabilities, which include fall detection, atrial fibrillation detection, and (soon) the capability to record electrocardiograms. It may seem expensive at $399 for the Wi-Fi version or $499 for the cellular version that can call emergency services even if its companion iPhone isn’t nearby, but the cost pales in comparison with the price of any medical event.

For those who are more interested in the Apple Watch’s fitness and communication features, last year’s Apple Watch Series 3 now starts at just $279 for Wi-Fi and $379 for cellular. It lacks the health monitoring features of the Series 4, but those are overkill for most young, healthy people. The cellular version is worthwhile only if you’re certain the recipient will make use of the watch while out and about without the iPhone, since its data plan costs $10 extra per month.

And, if someone on your gift list already has an Apple Watch, a new band would make a great present—Apple offers a wide variety of attractive and comfortable bands.

HomePod

Apple’s smart speaker may not be as popular as the Amazon Echo and gift-guide-HomePod-blackGoogle Home, but it sounds way better than its cheaper competition. Apple designed it to work with the $9.99 per month Apple Music service so if your recipient doesn’t already subscribe to Apple Music, you could include a subscription as part of the gift. The HomePod is available in black or white, and it’s super simple to set up and use via Siri for music, podcasts, speakerphone calls, kitchen timers, and a whole lot more.

Stocking Stuffer Accessories

You might not get the same “Wow!” factor with these gifts, but Apple’s gift-guide-USB-C-AV-adapterfocus on minimalist design has created a situation where many users find themselves frustrated by the lack of the right cable or adapter.

iPhone users might appreciate an extra Lightning charging cable or a Lightning-to-headphone adapter to take advantage of inexpensive earbuds. And those who rely on a MacBook with USB-C or a MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3 are usually desperate for USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 cables and adapters. Some of the most popular convert USB-C to USB-A for many devices, USB-C to HDMI for large-screen displays, and Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 for older Thunderbolt hard drives. Ask first to find out what they find most annoying!

Plus, a second iPhone, Mac, or Apple Watch charger can help reduce battery anxiety and make it easier to pack one for trips.

AirPods

One of the most popular Apple products of late has been the AirPods, gift-guide-AirPodssvelte wireless earbuds that pair quickly and seamlessly to all Apple devices logged in to the same iCloud account. They’re light, stay in the ear well, and are comfortable even for many people who can’t wear the wired EarPods. At $159, they’re not cheap, but they’re less expensive than many competing wireless earbuds.

Apple TV

Despite its age, the $149 fourth-generation Apple TV still makes a good present for anyone who watches TV shows and movies from Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, and other Internet streaming video services. It’s also great for sharing photos or videos from an iPhone or iPad on the big screen via AirPlay.

Unless your recipient has or is likely to get a compatible 4K HDR TV, gift-guide-Apple-TVskip the $179 Apple TV 4K since it provides no benefits on older TV screens.

For the friend or family member who already has an Apple TV, search for silicone cases that protect the brittle Siri Remote and make it easier to orient in the dark.

iPad

Last, but far from least, if someone in your family has never tried an iPad or is limping along with an early model, the current sixth-generation iPad combines good performance and a gorgeous screen starting at just $329.

gift-guide-iPad-Pencil

It’s also compatible with the original $99 Apple Pencil, so if your recipient has an artistic bent, consider adding Apple’s stylus and maybe a painting app.

Of course, particularly if you’re buying an iPad for a child, a protective case is a must, and even for adults, a good case can provide peace of mind and hold the iPad in convenient positions for reading books or watching movies.

How to Make the Most of Apple’s New AirPlay 2

For many years now, Apple’s AirPlay feature has made it possible to stream audio from an iOS device or Mac to an AirPlay-enabled speaker, AirPort Express base station, or most recently, a HomePod. Because AirPlay transfers sound over a Wi-Fi network, it eliminates the need for stereo wires and lets you put your speakers where you want them.

In June 2017, Apple threw back the curtains onAirPlay 2, saying it would play the same song on multiple speakers (with AirPlay 1, this is possible only in iTunes) or play different songs on different speakers. Subsequently, Apple released the HomePod, promising to add multi-room audio and stereo sound with linked HomePods in the future.

Apple recently released three updates—iOS 11.4, tvOS 11.4, and HomePod 11.4—with an eye toward delivering AirPlay 2 and these promised features. Once you’ve installed these updates, here’s how to start enjoying AirPlay 2’s improvements.

AirPlay 2 in iOS

To take advantage of the multi-room audio capabilities in iOS, start playing some audio. Then open Control Center, press the audio card to expand it, and tap the AirPlay  button in the upper right. You see a list of available output devices; those that support AirPlay 2 have a circle to the right of the name. Tap one or more of those circles to send the audio to that speaker. If an app has its own AirPlay button, you can also tap that to access the same controls.

AirPlay-2-in-iOS

The iPhone can’t play audio simultaneously with an AirPlay 2 speaker, which is why there’s no circle next to iPhonein the image above. Although AirPlay 1 devices—such as the AirPort Express base station (Speaker Expressabove)—still work singly, they can’t be included in a multi-room set.

AirPlay 2 in tvOS

Once your Apple TV is running tvOS 11.4, it can become an AirPlay 2 speaker, sending audio through your TV, soundbar, or home theater system. It can also broadcast its own audio to other AirPlay 2 speakers.

To enable an Apple TV for AirPlay 2, go to Settings > AirPlay > Room, and bring your iPhone or iPad close to the Apple TV. Accept the prompt that appears on the iPhone or iPad, and the Apple TV joins other AirPlay 2 devices associated with your Apple ID.

AirPlay-2-tvOS-setup

Once it’s set up, you can send audio from the Apple TV to different speakers. In a video app, swipe down from the top of the Siri Remote, select Audio, and then select one or more speakers (not all video apps offer this feature).

AirPlay-2-tvOS-video

For music, the steps are a little different. Start playing some music and then, from the Music app’s Now Playing screen, swipe up and to the left to highlight the AirPlay ios10-airplay-icon  button (if no icons are showing at the top of the screen, press the Menu button to display them). Or—this is much easier!—just press and hold the Play/Pause  play-pause-icon button on the Siri Remote. Then, as in iOS, select the desired AirPlay 2 speakers with circles to the right of their names by swiping down and clicking the touchpad.

AirPlay-2-tvOS-speakers

You can also send all Apple TV audio to AirPlay 2 speakers by going to Settings > Video and Audio > Audio Output and selecting the desired speakers.

Other AirPlay 2 Improvements

AirPlay 2 includes a few welcome performance improvements. A larger streaming buffer makes for fewer audio drops, and tighter device syncing provides a faster response when you play or pause the music. Another plus for iOS users is that taking a phone call or playing a game won’t interrupt playback.

Siri works better with streaming audio as well. You can specify which speaker Siri should play through, as in “play David Bowie’s Hunky Dory on Dining Room,” and play the same music through all your speakers with a command like “play the Brandenburg Concertos everywhere.” You can even move audio from one speaker to another—try asking your HomePod to “move the music to the Apple TV.”

AirPlay 2 speakers are now HomeKit accessories, so you can start and stop them in the Home app. That’s about it for now, but we hope a future update will let us integrate audio into HomeKit scenes and automations, so your HomePod could automatically start playing soft jazz when you walk in the door from work.

Finally, although it’s unclear whether this feature is part of AirPlay 2, a pair of HomePods can now act as stereo speakers. Once each HomePod is running 11.4, a new option to pair them appears in the HomePod settings in the Home app. Select the HomePods, assign them to the left and right sides, and you can enjoy true stereo music.

HomePod-pairing

It may sound as though all AirPlay 2-compatible speakers come from Apple, but in fact, a wide range of speaker manufacturers—including names like Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Denon, Marantz, Polk, and Sonos—have committed to supporting AirPlay 2, either with updates to existing products or in new speakers. Look for such products later in 2018, and, in the meantime, we hope you enjoy using AirPlay 2 with HomePods and Apple TVs.