2007 in Review (and hints towards 2008)

I suppose some sort of review of the year is in order, since it’s traditional around this time and all.

Plus soon enough everyone and their dog will start posting stuff to that effect, and I’d rather get it done sooner and avoid the crowds of “me toos”.

Furthermore, in an attempt to avoid pointless repetition of stuff you might read elsewhere, I’ll break mine down into five main fields: Apple (of course), home entertainment, the Internet at large, mobility and personal stuff.

The Apple Pie

If I were to list the highlights of the year in the Apple microcosm, I would be hard pressed to avoid mentioning stuff like the iPhone, Leopard, etc.

But since everyone (no matter how clueless or new to the Apple scene they are) is likely to weigh in on this, I’ll get it over with quickly:

Apple was brave enough to go off the deep end on the mobile market, and the brunt of their impact will only be felt over the next year or so.

But, in many ways, a large portion of it is negative, starting with the relatively wobbly state in which their desktop OS is right now (nobody but a zealot would call Leopard “complete” at this stage).

Yes, the iPhone hype shock wave (and I do mean the hype, not the device itself) has, by and large, given the industry pause, but people do not buy devices on hype fumes alone, and Apple needs to start stepping up the ante on feature parity.

And analysts high on fumes need to remember that they are still riding the iPod wave (incidentally, their quarterly figures this Xmas are likely to be their best ever), and have yet to build a video/TV equivalent of their success on the music market – which is likely to be the big question regarding their business model next year, and is also a good lead for the next topic.

The Home Box, That Elusive Concept

Despite all its shortcomings, I am increasingly of the opinion that Personal Mechanics listed the Apple TV as one of the worst products of 2007 as a gimmick to make people read their piece.

But one thing’s for sure: If you are looking for a single box for all your home entertainment needs, the Apple TV, in it present form, simply isn’t it.

You need look no further than the wholesale acceptance of DivX as a media format by the PS3 and the 360 to understand where things are going, with both game consoles becoming all-in-one media hubs and their respective backers working on “proper” online media distribution (the only field where Apple had any real lead).

With DivX as consumer bait and H.264 as a (somewhat) future-proof format for HD content distribution (never mind the stupidity around Blu-ray and HD-DVD, online distribution is the only sane approach), things are likely to get a lot more interesting.

As to gaming, I believe that Sony has pretty much dropped the ball this time around – not just because the PS3 is being hammered by the Wii in every sense, but also due to their amazingly idiotic decision to drop backwards compatibility in the latest hardware revisions and to the studios’ inability to launch truly innovative titles or their slowness to deliver an online experience that rivals Microsoft’s Live.

And with games’ growing importance in the entertainment arena, they had better start doing something soon. My personal bet is that they will keep floundering during 2008, but we’ll see.

The Wild, Wild Web

Picking up the video theme again, the amount of video you can find online has, of course, skyrocketed in every sense, but although many people will harp on about how the Web is “replacing” television as the prime source for entertainment and news, I’m somewhat more interested in the quagmire of social networking and the way in which it is, to a large extent, sucking the life out of what used to be the dynamic and innovative field of online services.

It’s like the portal craze of a few years back (or the mashup madness of last year). All of a sudden, everyone wants to build their own social network, or tie their (often pointless and short-lived) service to a social network, or figure out increasingly intrusive and obnoxious ways to sell stuff to someone on a social network.

Me, I’m sure that the way forward lies in leveraging mobility and being absolutely, utterly sure that you respect your user base instead of using them as guinea pigs for your latest moneymaking schemes.

And, of course, I’m waiting to see what Google does – and I don’t mean OpenSocial or their new features in Reader – which, incidentally, are pretty clear cut, despite the bouts of hysteria being posted these days (and here’s the best rebuke so far).

The Non-Evil Mobile

Much more interesting to me, however, is the way mobile devices and services, as a whole, are growing up and becoming more sophisticated and ever nearer that mythical intersection point between the mobile and the PC (which, in turn, keeps shrinking, as anyone who’s following the recent cheap sub-notebook craze will readily attest to).

And, as such, if I were to pick only one highlight of 2007 regarding the telco industry, I’d pick Google’s Android as the game-changing event1.

The platform isn’t perfect and lacks some focus (there’s only so much you can do for a first release, and usability-wise it still needs a lot of tweaks), but the big game in town right now is openness and web service integration, and I believe it’s the best overall platform out there, at least until Nokia retaliates in kind (and their Beta labs show that they know what they’re doing).

As always, I’m standing right there in the thick of it and as such cannot really go on at length, but these are, indeed, interesting times – as the telco market moves ever closer to the “traditional” IT and computing markets (and I’m not just talking about fixed broadband, which played a very big role in my professional life this year), things get more and more challenging.

Sure, Apple is sure to surprise us yet again (and do so with superlative style and panache, as usual), but Google and Nokia are the ones to watch next year.

RIM won’t be standing still, either, but US pundits who drool after iPhone and BlackBerry news or who believe that Windows Mobile is “competition” for the iPhone are still not getting the reality of the global mobile marketplace – i.e., that there are two key markets right now: “Europe“European and China.

One is the largest smartphone market in the world, and the other is the future largest smartphone market in the world:

Even considering that the above are only smartphone sales, it doesn’t take much visual acuity and market awareness to realize that the US and Japan are pretty peculiar in their own ways, and with very different drivers from the rest of the world (China is growing at nearly twice the speed of other markets in some segments, so don’t be fooled by the colors).

The elephant in the room is, of course, South America, which is buried under “ROW” but is an entirely different ball game.

But I digress – let it be enough to say that 2008 will be yet another year when people will hype their favorite platform without regard for actual market conditions, and be done with it.

Me, Work, and Stuff

With fortune-telling out of the way, I can get on to personal stuff: My return to Marketing was, without a shred of a doubt, the best thing I did in, oh… four years or so, even considering portentous events like earthquakes, the continuing bouts of synchronicity with Dilbert and other omens.

Not because I stopped caring about the technical stuff (which I still love), but because it brought a marked improvement on morale, motivation and, consequently, health. Which is now consistent with what you’d expect from someone who now walks a mile or so to work every day, has lost 20Kg (44lb for those of you with Imperial measurements spliced into your neurons) and feels a lot more in control (of everything) than a year ago.

Being back in the business side of things at this time was, without a doubt, the best thing of 2007, and is likely to be the best of 2008 as well, since I joined a great team and was involved in a bunch of game-changing events inside the company (most of which I got to witness up close and personal).

The team I’m part of now is one of the key players in those changes, and after helping push our ADSL launch here we’ve already moved on to other stuff that is sure to surprise those embittered souls who think telcos are all the same.

And, as usual, you won’t hear about it here first. :)

1 Yeah, that’s right. I rate Android above the iPhone. You can start whining now, the comments form is just below this footnote.