What Gadgets and Games are on the list? Find out what gifts are worth the investments!

Tis’ the season for exciting new gadgets, games, tantalizing toys, and tech. In preparation for the approaching holiday season, we will focus on some of the hot topics as well as hits and misses for the upcoming festivities. From an all new gaming “platform” to augmented reality, let’s dive right into it!

We have to start out w/ Google’s Stadia. What is it exactly? It’s a cloud based platform that is designed to allow high resolution game streaming across multiple platforms. For example, in theory you can launch your game on your phone, tablet, PC, or TV almost instantly and pick up where you left off. If this worked as intended this would be a game changer for the industry. Unfortunately, it’s just not there yet. With a limited amount of available games, and more features missing than Swiss cheese has holes, Stadia, in its current form, is a massive avoid for this season. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals / bundles on the major consoles (Switch, PS4, and Xbox One S), the extra $80 is worth it to avoid the pain points of the valiant, but issue-ridden effort by Big G. I do hope that Google continues to support the venture (unlike what they did w/ Day Dream) as there is already potential and massive promise for a service/platform like Stadia.

Tech Education Classes at Digital Dragon

I am immediately drawn towards exploring the technology in educational settings. Especially out-of-school learning opportunities where the experience can travel with the learner between locations. Graduate students in our department (at Carnegie Mellon University) through early access, are already developing new and novel gameplay experiences on the platform.  


Merge Cube - Holiday gift guide 2019One surprise in this post is the Merge Cube. There are a few notes for this one. I would not advocate for the Merge Cube as merely a consumable. The experiences can come off as one dimensional – which is a funny way to put it, because they’re all about 3D. What I mean is that the experiences often fall flat…oops, another pun. All jokes aside, there are a few reasons why this tech is included here. The price point is good, all things considered – if you have access to a relatively up-to-date smart device or computer. More importantly, the company has shared a Software Development Kit or SDK. This provides a well documented way to make your own interactions! If you have a curious developer, this is a cool way to tinker around and develop for augmented reality. One extra note that isn’t a deal breaker, but something to consider…while the headset provided is easy to clean due to its material properties, that same material really turns the head mounted display into a little oven!  Beware!

Digital Dragon Holiday gift guide LEGO Hidden Side

On the topic of AR, the LEGO theme Hidden Side is another example of blending physical and digital elements into a form of play. It should come as no surprise that both the Merge Cube and Hidden Side rely on the same technology – a platform called Vuforia. Could the LEGO sets be “hacked” to create new twists? Hidden Side sets employ playful uses of the LEGO elements — they provide new building techniques while folding in engaging storytelling. What more could you ask for?

TLDR; When looking for gifts for your little learner/gamer/techie, look for extensive use cases of the product you’re considering (for a buffer on how to do so, check previous posts about the SAMR model). The shiniest “thing” can become dull very quickly if there isn’t an opportunity to run with it as far as your creativity can take you. Google Stadia shoots for the stars and almost gets there…but definitely a fizzle at launch. Merge Cube recognizes the low ceiling offered by the majority of its apps and has since opened up for anyone to develop for. Smart! LEGO does what LEGO does, a cautious approach into blended play with clever interactions while maintaining the core experience of the timeless system. Here’s a freebie for reading this far: Adobe Aero, a basic AR authoring platform is currently available at no cost for iOS devices. Basic editing options and sharing might be a spur to dive deep into the exciting world of augmented reality!



Finch 2.0 Holiday Gift Micro:bit

Missed opportunities for the holiday target dates are the eagerly awaited Finch 2.0 from Birdbrain Technologies (available Spring 2020),

Microsoft Hololens 2 (for the adult serious developer/techie)

…and LEGO SPIKE Prime education set (expected shipping starting Jan. 9th). How about an IOU in the stocking?

John Balash was instrumental in Digital Dragon’s launch in 2013 as its first Curriculum Director and is now back in the fold as a consultant on all the latest and greatest in tech education.This is John’s latest contribution to a monthly blog series we’ve launched, Tech News from the Frontier. John is the Director of Educational Engagement at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. John has worked on educationally focused initiatives with clients ranging from D.A.R.P.A. to Disney. Working from both sides of the desk, you can find John in classrooms and conferences around the world exploring new uses for technologies in learning environments.