iTunes, Netflix, Amazon and even PSN are all pretty good at distributing downloadable movies and music. But all of these data files, as easy as they are to buy, make for a crappy gift.
Let me backtrack for a moment. Someone I know has a birthday coming up, and one item I'd really like to get them is an XBLA (Xbox Live) title. Since the game isn't available in stores, that means I have two solutions. One, I can sneak onto their Xbox like a ninja, enter my credit card info and make the purchase for them (which is just sort of creepy), or two, I can give them an Xbox gift card for the sum of the game.
I'm not really happy with either option.
My sincere gesture, giving a friend a game they'd enjoy because I've accounted for their tastes, is diluted to an exchange of capital. It's really just giving them cash in a nicer form. Sure, you can buy someone a gift card, but you can't actually buy them a gift.
This is a problem.
Today, the limitation is probably only bugging me and a handful of other uber nerds. But what about in four or five years? We're a society that's only moving more and more digital. Soon, even giving someone a CD may very well seem like a dated gesture—one that may inconvenience the recipient since, hell, they don't have a CD drive anymore!
I just don't want to be condemned to a life of gift cards with a little note written in Sharpie "for the new Batman."
Luckily, implementing gift giving on a service like Xbox Live would be incredibly easy. They already have the infrastructure to manage various payment accounts and allow users to communicate to one another and a central server. So imagining a system in which you receive a message informing you that Sk8rB0y has sent you a game is by no means a far stretch. (The feature would probably take Microsoft all of a week to complete, if they put their mind to it.)
But what about an iTunes? UPDATE: They actually offer gifting through email. That's something I didn't realize and I'm guessing a lot of people don't realize. Including even custom playlists, I'll admit, it's a good start. My question to you is, do you consider an email link enough? Does that feel like a gift?
Maybe it's just my perspective that will be forced to change as I bow to the next level of consumerism. But for the moment, the gift card approach feels like a one size fits some philosophy being squeezed over nearly the entire modern home entertainment industry—and I can't imagine it's adding a lot of humanity to the already cold digital realm.