2007 was another big year for gadget-heads, with a wealth of new tech to get to grips with, some intriguing industry developments, and the usual fanboy warz between Apple, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo addicts.
We’ve been rounding up the key trends from 2007 over the past week, but if you missed them, here’s a guide to the tech happenings that we thought were important in the last twelve months. Roll on 2008, when we can find out what’s next in line to excite our minds (and drain our wallets).
1. iPhone rolled out
2007 truly was the year of the iPhone. Apple’s svelte mobile handset was the subject of an enormous amount of hype, speculation, opinion and criticism during the year, leading up to its US launch, and then all over again for its launch on this side of the Atlantic.
So how did it do? Well, iPhone has had a mixed first year. It was slated for not being 3G and having an underwhelming camera, while here in the UK, sales have reportedly not been as strong as Apple (and particularly its partner O2) were hoping.
However, iPhone HAS changed the mobile industry, in terms of setting a new bar for ease of use. Meanwhile, Apple has also broken new ground in terms of getting people to truly see their phone as a device for surfing the Web and using data services. 2008 should bring that long-awaited 3G model, and a few more surprises…
Radiohead have often been celebrated for the innovative nature of their music, but 2007 was the year they turned traditional music industry business models on their head too. How? By self-releasing their ‘In Rainbows’ album as a digital download, for which fans could choose their own price.
The band have since been at pains to stress that while this method worked for them, they’re not advocating that it’ll work for all artists. Indeed, they’ve faced some criticism from within the industry for going it alone, with the argument that smaller bands couldn’t do the same thing.
Still, I think ‘In Rainbows’ proved something positive: that given the choice to pay almost nothing for an album, real fans will still stump up a decent amount of cash. And all those people who grabbed the album for the 45p admin fee? Well, they might go to a Radiohead gig or buy the next one, so nobody’s lost out.
At the start of 2007, we were in the midst of Second Life mania in the media, with newspapers and cultural commentators queuing up to rave about the virtual zeitgeist. Meanwhile, brands were piling into Linden Lab’s world, hoping to share in the euphoria.
It’s fair to say that hype has now dissipated. Many brands have been disappointed with the return on their investment in Second Life, and user numbers haven’t grown as fast as was expected. That’s not a sign that Second Life is a flop, mind. It’s just more of a niche than some of the overblown hype predicted.
However, some virtual worlds have seen huge growth in 2007. They’re the ones aimed at kids, for example Club Penguin and Webkinz. They’re not hyped much, but talk to parents, and you’ll realise how popular they are. So before you say virtual worlds failed in 2007, won’t you please think of the children…
Well, that’s not strictly true. Nokia announced plans to become a services company, rather than a handset firm. By which they meant they’d place more focus on mobile content and services, rather than just flogging handsets and letting operators take care of the content side.
Nokia’s Ovi scheme is at the centre of this new strategy, an umbrella brand which brings together Nokia Music Store, N-Gage games, mapping and location services, and anything else that involves mobile services. It’s set to launch next year, and could position Nokia as a rival to Google and Yahoo.
That’s if they get it right though. Nokia hasn’t always enjoyed unstinting praise for its efforts at mobile services, and ended the year by announcing an embarrassing delay of its new N-Gage games platform – a key plank of Ovi.
One of the more exciting developments in 2007 for webheads was the emergence of a clutch of ‘Telly 2.0’ startups (I’m persisting with that moniker until it catches on) like Joost, Babelgum and VeohTV. Each offered an array of exclusive channels, mixing music, entertainment and weirdness.
It did feel like early days though, with proprietary applications, a lot of channels that frankly were a bit pish, and the sense that at some point, the big broadcasters would make their own entry into the market. Which, of course, they have with the likes of BBC iPlayer (in the UK) and Hulu (in the US) joining the online TV club.
2007 was the year that established you could get streaming TV channels to your PC (and sometimes your Mac) in a watchable form. I reckon 2008 will be the year these services start figuring out how to then stream across to your actual telly…
Who would have thought that a £219 laptop would have been THE hard-to-find gadget for Christmas 2007? Apart from the Wii, of course (I’ll get to that in another post). Asus has been shovelling Eee PCs onto the shelves as fast as it can, but they’re being snapped up just as fast.
The success of the teeny-tiny Eee showed the demand for a cheap, accessible laptop with Wi-Fi built-in. It was also a huge boost for Linux, which is now in the hands of thousands of people who’ve probably never been exposed to it before.
The question is what happens next? There’ll be more Eees from Asus, including features like Windows XP, more memory, and a built-in 3G modem. But other laptop manufacturers are sure to try and get in on the action with their own models in 2008.
7. Facebook poked the world
Admit it: many of the most adamant Facebook refuseniks had decided to join the fastest growing social network after all by the end of the year. Facebook is one of those sites that, once it gathered momentum, was near unstoppable in terms of signing up users. Once most of your friends were on it, you had to join.
2007 was a great year for Facebook in other ways too, such as the launch of its Applications platform, which has already spawned some innovative apps, with more to come in 2008. Music, games and Web 2.0 companies are only scratching the surface of what’s possible now.
However, with mushrooming userbases also comes responsibility – something Facebook didn’t show with the launch of its intrusive Beacon advertising technology recently. It swiftly apologised, but any more misjudgements of its users on that scale, and it’ll risk ebbing away as fast as it grew.
Who’d have thought the champion next-gen console would be the one made by Nintendo? Yet the Wii has gone from strength to strength this year, despite continued stock shortages that have won it the dubious distinction of being the parent-panicking product of two Christmases in a row.
When they have made it to the shelves, Wiis have been flying off because they’ve reached a tipping point of appealing beyond the traditional console gamer market. And of course, their low price means many gamers have seen them as the ideal ‘second’ console.
Wii also got some much-needed quality games in 2007, although it could have got a few more, if I’m honest. The key for Nintendo now is to get more innovative games onto Wii in 2008, that make full use of its capabilities. Oh, and to build a few more factories, obviously.
One of the most dispiriting tech stories of 2007 has been the ongoing war of statistics between HD DVD and Blu-ray, in which each side has regularly proclaimed its dominance, using a bewildering variety of metrics. It’s been a willy-waving contest from start to finish.
Of course, it’s important to know which format is winning, if any. Consumers don’t want to get stuck with another Betamax, so they’re waiting to see which format looks likely to come out on top before parting with their cash.
But the real story isn’t about which format has x% of the market. It’s about how big the overall market is for BOTH of them. And it’s not as big as it should be: mainly as a result of confusion around the whole format war. In 2008, something needs to happen to solve this.
Alas, poor AIBO. He was put to metaphorical sleep just as consumers started to get properly excited about robots. Rumour has it he’ll return in 2008, but until then, Honda’s Asimo is undisputed top dog in the robot world. And he didn’t have to lasergun anyone to achieve it.
Asimo wowed us at CES in January, with his accomplished display of running in circles, going up and down stairs, and booting a football about. By the end of 2007, he’d mastered serving coffee from a tray without dropping it. This, my friends, is progress.
Seriously, Asimo is one of the most powerful arguments yet in favour of the idea that one day, we really will live with robot home helpers in a sci-fi stylee. He might not be available to buy yet, and when he is, you’ll need to be rich. But even so, he deserves a big cyborg clap on the back for cheering us up in 2007.