SAN JOSE, Calif. — Move over, peace and happiness. Computers are what Americans really want nowadays.
The machines that feed us infinite and instant information, store our digital memories, give us hours of fun with games, videos or music — and help us do our taxes — outrank peace, happiness and clothes this year as the most wished-for gifts, according to an annual U.S. survey by the consumer electronics industry's largest trade organization.
Last year, the most popular answer to the survey's open-ended query about respondents' holiday wishes was clothing, followed by peace and happiness, money and then computers.
This year, after computers, peace and happiness came in second, followed by a big-screen TV, clothes and then money.
Such enthusiasm for computers and TVs, as well as other electronics, will help drive electronics sales up 7 percent to $48.1 billion in the fourth quarter from $44.8 billion the year-ago period, according to a forecast by the Consumer Electronics Association.
By comparison, the overall retail industry is expected to see holiday sales grow 4 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.
"We're looking at a very solid season for consumer electronics, and it's certainly a bright spot for the economy," said Joe Bates, CEA's director of research.
For all of 2007, electronics sales are expected to reach $160 billion, up 8 percent from $148 billion last year, according to the CEA forecast.
The organization's annual consumer survey separately evaluated shopping intentions for the holidays. The random telephone survey of 1,003 adult Americans was conducted in late September and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
"The fact that they want computers over clothing and peace and happiness is amazing," said Shawn DuBravac, the CEA's economist. "It's a testament to what the tech industry has done to empower the consumer."
People are doing more with their computers, such as posting videos or writing blogs, Bates said. The demand for laptops is particularly strong, "and you can buy a more powerful one and at a lower price than what you paid four years ago," he said.
The survey also indicated consumers plan to spend a bit more on gadget gifts this year: $358 per household versus $337 in 2006.
Gifts will account for about 46 percent of electronics sales in the fourth quarter, while the rest will come from purchases people make for themselves — a typical shopping pattern during the holiday period, Bates said.
As for specific gizmos people wanted to receive as gifts this holiday season, portable music players topped the list for the third year in a row. Laptops rose to second place from third, and video game systems displaced digital cameras to come in third.
Gaming will be hotter this year, Bates said, since all the next-generation consoles have been out for at least a year and have a larger library of games.
A video game system was also the most popular item people planned to give as an electronics gift this year, according to the survey.