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Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Tech gifts for young families

What Christmas gifts would expectant parents want under their tree this year?

ZDNet 2011 Holiday Gift Guide
My tech savvy friends will become first-time parents in the new year, so I've been on the hunt for gifts that would suit a young family this Christmas. What are some gadgets that iPhone-toting parents can use, and what tech toys would their kids like? Here are five that seem to fit the bill but I'm sure you have other recommendations, so be sure to share them in the comments below.

iRobot Roomba 780

New parents are notoriously sleep and time deprived when they learn to care for a new child, so why not help them automate the tasks that can now be outsourced to a robot? As the iRobot rep explained to me, the Roomba is designed for frequent vacuuming sessions (some set it to clean once a day) but not to replace regular vacuum cleaners that are more powerful (and in my brief testing, better in the corners than the circular Roomba). The top-of-the-line iRobot Roomba 780 may be pricey at $549.99, but its ability to clean on its own and on a schedule may be priceless to stressed out parents who just can't spare time. After all, while the Roomba bounces from obstacle to obstacle to vacuum, it frees the parents to do other more important things, like keeping an eye on the baby.

iRobot Scooba 230

Like the Roomba, its more compact cousin the Scooba frees parents from washing the floor with a traditional mop (but not to clean up spills). Although it doesn't clean on a set schedule or offer as many helpful alerts as the Roomba, the mini-pizza-sized Scooba 230 is nimble in small spaces and works in 20 and 40-minute sessions. It cleans most flooring with water (not laminate though), and absorbs dirt into a compartment that can be rinsed with water afterwards. At $249.99, the Scooba is more hygienic and easy to store than a mop, and is less wasteful than wet Swifter wipes.

Case-Mate TANK Case for iPhone 4/4S

As one of the few cases on the market that meet or exceed United States Military Specifications for sand/dust, shock/drop, wind/rain and vibration, the Case-Mate TANK for the iPhone 4/4S should be able to survive anything a baby may do to his parent's phones. (I know a toddler who thought it would be funny to drop an unprotected iPhone 4 from the second story onto a marble floor.) Not only does the soft-touch textured polycarbonate hard shell and cushioned silicone interior work to absorb and resist against high-impact contact, the retractable screen also protects against impacts, cracks and condensation. Though TANK won't win any awards for its rugged looks (at least it's available in various colors), consider the case a $60 insurance on a thousand dollar phone (hardware plus service plan).

Sifteo Cubes

Powerful hardware combined with an endless supply of apps mean toys can now adapt to the changing needs of kids as they grow up. Sifteo Cubes look deceptively simple but pack a lot of advanced electronics into 1.5-inch squares: a 128 x 128 TFT LCD, 32-bit ARM CPU, 3-axis accelerometer, 8 MP Flash, 2.4 GHz wireless radio, and Sifteo's own near field object sensing technology. They must be within 20 feet of a computer that is running the Siftrunner software, which accesses the user's account and library of apps online, as well as initiates the apps on the cubes. Although the selection of apps is limited at the moment, they already range from interactive e-books, adventure/puzzle games, to word and math games that parents can customize to make learning fun and relevant. The cubes recognize a range of motion and spatial controls -- from flipping them upside-down to change screens, pairing cubes to continue a puzzle from one cube to the other, or just rotating them to select the correct answer. For $149, the Sifteo Cubes starter kit only includes three cubes which will be a handful for young kids and their parents.

Wappy Dog for Nintendo DS

What better way to teach a young child responsibility and empathy than to care for a pet? For those families that have no time for a real one, a robot could do the trick. Wappy Dog is one of the most popular Nintendo DS games this holiday (currently #16 on Amazon's Best Selling DS games) that includes the robot dog with a Nintendogs-like game for just $49.99. Although Wappy cannot walk around like a real dog, it is embedded with sensors that respond to touch, and communicates with the DS via Wi-Fi. Kids can interact with the robot directly or through the game (by feeding it food or playing games together) in Home Mode, or play the DS-only pet sim game in Travel Mode so there is no need to bring Wappy along whenever its young owner goes. While Wappy Dog could never replace the joy of growing up with a real dog, at least it is easy to clean up and has a power button.