Back in October, The New York Times published an article detailing how 2020 saw a halt to the so-called “gadget apocalypse”. John Herrman wrote:

“Gadgets were supposed to be over. Smartphones, tablets and smartwatches cannibalized the weaker devices around them, including cameras, music players, navigation units, fitness trackers and gaming devices. The few tech products that broke through the noise of crowdfunding sites and the crowded field of start-ups were quickly commoditized and undercut on Amazon."


“The stores that dealt in gadgetry - Circuit City, RadioShack, Best Buy - had gone out of business or become glum warehouses for no-fun products.”

But - due in part to the real end-of-the-world threat posed by COVID-19 - gadgets have made a remarkable recovery.

Herrman explains:

“Seven months of shattered plans, lockdowns and rapidly improvised new normals have converted jaded consumers around the world into frantic gadget freaks, each grasping for items that, in their chaotic disparity, tell the story of a strange, dark year: pulse oximeters, the iPhone 12, HEPA air filters, infrared thermometers, bare-minimum tablets and laptops for schooling, the PlayStation 5, ring lights, miniature freezers, home networking equipment, and noise cancelling headphones.”

I must say, that if there was a looming threat to the world of gadgetry before 2020, I wasn’t aware of it. The article’s sub-heading claims: “A brutally unexpected year turned millions of people into gear nerds, whether they liked it or not.” Me? Well I’ve been a loud and proud gear nerd for decades now. And I like it.

Herrman, on the other hand, expects the gadget boom will end with “a bunch of little-used and rapidly obsolete junk stowed away in closets and landfill around the world”. I certainly see that being the case where “smart” skipping ropes are concerned, or for Charmin’s “Rollbot” – if it ever sees the light of day. Even by my standards, a robot that delivers toilet paper is a step too far.

Herrman contests:

“This isn’t spontaneous mass hobbyism or a slide into decadence. It’s a cornered populace spending what they can in hopes that some novel invention will stave off disaster, or even just gloom.”

It makes sense that individuals adapt to their newfound situation in the best way they know how – by throwing money at it.

Take desk ring lights, a compact gadget hugely popular with the Instagram generation. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that ordinary working folk have succumbed to the trend too – if only to appear half-human on their sixth Zoom conference of the day. After all, there are only so many “you look how I feel” comments one can take before the siren call of flawless skin and sparkling eyes becomes too great to ignore. Thankfully for me, my appearance is the least of my problems. I wear my perma-tired and dishevelled look as a badge of honour, having pulled more than a few late nights this week alone.

I have, however, been a long-time fan of many of the other gadgets and gizmos that have enjoyed an uplift this year. In August, I shared details of my DIY garden cinema – an outdoor projector and 20-foot inflatable screen - which proved to be a godsend for entertaining the little Lambs during lockdown.

Whilst I’ve been based from home for more than decade, thousands were experiencing regular home-working for the first time thanks to the “work from home if you can” mandate from Boris and pals. Unsurprisingly, this led to a boom in tech products: printers, webcams, Bluetooth speakers, wireless mice... but also SAD lights, air purifiers, espresso machines and fitness equipment. 

I wouldn’t be shocked if the pandemic had also seen a spike in watercooler sales – anything to recreate the office environment, even if you were sharing your theories about Mare of Easttown with Wallace the puppy!

According to Oberlo – a dropshipping company – six categories enjoyed exceptional year-on-year growth during the 30th March – 29th April period: Security & Protection, Home Appliances, Home Improvement, Sport & Entertainment, Light & Lighting, and Tools. By contrast, revenue decreased for Watches, Men’s Clothing & Accessories, and Luggage & Bags.

Flying off the virtual shelves for the same period were blue light glasses, smartwatches and – you guessed it – selfie ring lights! That said, a folding fish net achieved 7th place in the list so maybe consumer shopping patterns aren’t as predictable as I first thought!

In March 2020, the BBC reported a surge in fridge and freezer sales:

“As supermarket bosses have been telling us, there is collectively £1bn more worth of food in our houses than before the stockpiling rush started. But where does it all go? You have to have somewhere to store it.

“As a result, freezers and fridges have zoomed up the list of products people are searching for on online marketplaces…

“Dixons Carphone said it had seen very good sales of equipment for home working (laptops, printers), for home entertainment (TVs, gaming consoles) and for home living (fridges, freezers, kitchen appliances), with same-store sales up 23%.”

When the bulk-buying of frozen veg and toilet roll phase thankfully passed, many turned their attention to what else they could purchase to improve the mundanity of living, working and holidaying within the confines of their homes. 

I still have my sights set on a mini fridge for my home office. There’s nothing like an easily accessible ice cold bevvy, after all. Apart from, I don’t know, at a communal gathering place? Surrounded by friends? With no face masks, hand sanitiser or social distancing? One day...

Image by Joe Woods