The most popular Christmas gifts over the past 10 years speak volumes about what people like. Which apparently is Elmo and iPods (but mostly Elmo). But if we look a little closely, it also says a whole lot about just how far tech has progressed. Let's take a look.
Before we entered into the new Willennium, the internet was still pretty new to us, and shiny gadgets weren't exactly the big gifts yet. For example in 1998, the big gift was a Furby, based on my entirely unscientific assessment of Amazon sales data, cultural hype, and news reports year by year. In 1999, it was all about Pokemon. And by 2000, it was a Razor scooter. You know, toys in the traditional sense.
In the early 2000s came the switch to electronics, and they've reigned supreme since. Except for Elmo. Amazon told Gizmodo that, based on its data, Elmo has been a consistent favorite over the last decade. Remember when the Tickle Me Elmo first came out in '96? People went gaga for that thing. And Mattel (which bought Tyco, the original maker of Tickle Me Elmo) has kept iterating Elmo to keep the toy's popularity alive.
Perhaps the only products to rival Elmo's reign have been shiny new Apple products. But let's trace it back 10 years.
I don't know what we were doing in 2004, but 10 years ago, this was the toy of Christmas. Sure, it was produced by a NASA scientist, but its biggest selling points were pre-programmed dance moves that could sync up with other RoboSapiens and also farts. It sold 1.5 million units between April and December of that year.
In 2005, tech really started making its presence known. This was the year the Xbox owned the territory under the tree. It was released in November, and by the end of the year, it had already done 1.5 million units in sales worldwide. And Microsoft rode the popularity of that console until just a year ago when it came out with the Xbox One.
The PS3 was Sony's answer to the previous year's biggest gift, the Xbox 360. The console came out mid-November 2006, and people absolutely lost their shit. Apparently, one guy was shot, and others were injured waiting in line for the game system. In the first week, people were paying thousands of dollars for the thing on eBay. It sold out in one day.
Even though the Wii first came out in 2006, it remained popular into the next year. Besides, in 2006, it came out a little too late to be the top Christmas gift. At E3, Nintendo announced a hundred new games for the Wii, but a shortage threatened to ruin Christmas for kids everywhere. And whenever there's a shortage, people tend to freak the f out.
It's also worth pointing out that in this year, the iPod Touch was insanely popular. Though the iPhone came out in the same year, it expensive and still unproven tech. The iPod Touch let people in on a cheaper version of the fun, without the phone, and it's remained a very successful product for Apple these seven years later.
An Elmo that talks to you and laughs when you tickle him? How can a child resist. This toy—which you can still buy on Amazon, by the way—was advertised as one of the most lifelike versions of Sesame Street's most beloved denizen to date. Oh, this Elmo also sings. Do you ever wonder why parents endure toys like this? Love conquers all things.
2009 was the year of the e-reader. Amazon was first to market with its first Kindle, but when Barnes & Noble came out with the Nook, it was considered a Kindle killer. Amazon has perhaps won the war now, but five years ago, it was unclear. What is clear is lots of people got first-gen e-readers that Christmas.
In 2010, there was no contest. It was the year Apple first introduced the iPad, and it was the first tablet to really go mainstream. Before the iPad, tablets where mostly specialist Windows devices, clunky stylus machines. Apple sold 15 million of its more casual first-gen iPads! It was a huge product that Christmas, and in it current form remains massively popular.
Oh you think Elmo was gonna sleep on you? Nope, in 2011, Hasbro was back with Let's Rock Elmo, a rockstar, drum-playing, song-singing, tambourine clashing, little red monster. And in a year where there was no new console, and incremental updates to the iPhone with the 4S and the iPad with the 2, Elmo dominated.
At this point, it gets a little bit murky what exactly is the most popular gift, when you consider how many product lines there are that have done consistent Christmas sales. You've got the iPad and the iPhone, which are still ticking along, as well as new Furbies, which were pretty big in 2012. But the winner this year was the Wii U. It was no violent PS3 launch, but the Wii's followup to the Wii was met with considerable hype, and it beat other next-gen competitors like the Xbox One and PS4 to the shelves by a lot.
2013 was a big year for product updates. We got the sleek, light iPad Air, a Retina iPad Mini, a new Xbox with the One, a PlayStation 4 and goddamnit, a new Elmo toy in Hugs Elmo. The Xbox One outsold the PS4, but it was a big year for all of those products mentioned. Which means, there were a lot of choices as far as big Christmas gifts go. Call it a draw.
So we don't know what the biggest gift of this year is yet because the numbers aren't in quite yet. But we have some good guesses! iPad's will be popular, as will iPhones, considering it was a big iPhone launch with the 6 and the 6 Plus which are significantly different and new and shiny and fun. The Xbox One and the Ps4 will most likely continue on their momentum, although Amazon shows the deeply discounted Microsoft console as the most gifted in its video game category. It's hard to say, but the bottom line is this: naughty or nice, people are going to get tech for Christmas.