Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's Hot in 2007

As the year slowly comes to a close (yes, I know we still have a few weeks left!), it's worth a look back at some of the biggest trends in '07. Of course, as with any other year, there have been tons of major product and technology announcements. But there are a few that stick out (in my mind, at least) as some of the most dominant.

In the A/V category, one of the biggest trends this year has been thin bezel designs. Toshiba is one of the leaders in this area, with its new Super Narrow Bezel REGZA HDTVs that measure just 1" wide! Sharp has also slimmed down its cabinet designs with the D64U AQUOS series that are 25% thinner than previous-generation models. I won't bore you with a pun on the words "thin is in", but the point is that slimmer TVs are becoming all the rage, and this is a trend that will likely continue into 2008.

The high-definition DVD format war continued to drag on through 2007, and will likely not come to an end any time soon. Each format has its advantages and disadvantages, which is a topic I've covered many times over the course of the year in this blog. As we continue to wait it out, manufacturers keep pumping out new players in both formats; and some are even cranking out dual-format players in hopes of finding an all-in-one solution. The latest Blu-ray model to hit the market hails from Panasonic; while new brands are coming to market with low-priced HD DVD players, like one from Venturer Electronics. In April, Samsung announced plans to introduce a dual-format player, although its Canadian availability hadn't yet been confirmed at that time. Hopefully 2008 will bring forth a winner in this race.

Another hot topic in A/V has been media servers, and the act of streaming music (not to mention other kinds of content) throughout the home via devices like the Sonos Music System, Sling Media Slingbox, and Slim Devices Transporter and Squeezebox. But dedicated media servers are also finding their way more and more into homes, as evidenced by Microsoft's latest Home Server; and several products that were on display at CEDIA EXPO in September. As we roll into 2008, customers will continue to request content at their fingertips through these such devices, as well as things like portable players and PVRs (especially with TiVo now available in Canada).

In the mobile arena, the iPhone is without doubt, the biggest news of 2007. Although we haven't yet seen the device in Canada, there have been rumblings that it might arrive in early 2008. In the meantime, new players, like HTC, have entered the Canadian cellular market; while providers and devices are ramping up offerings as new features like video calling and 3G networks are coming into play. With the wireless airwaves opening up for potential competition in 2008, it seems like next year will be an even more exciting year in wireless.

When it comes to music, Apple takes the cake again with its new iPod incarnations, like the iPod Touch, which boasts a similar user interface to the iPhone, along with WiFi capability. But other players have been offering some really enticing features, like Samsung's neat YP-S5, which has fold out speakers, and can double as a Bluetooth speakerphone. Video capability on portable devices also gained plenty of steam in 2007; and will likely gain more importance in the eye of the consumer as more video content becomes available north of the border.

Of course we can't look back at 2007 without looking at the popular social networking Website The company came out of nowhere to take social networking to a whole new level, involving more than just the younger generation, and adding voyeuristic capabilities that have become oddly appealing to its members. In October, Microsoft spent US$240M for a stake in the company, which brought it to a whole new level of influence in the marketplace, and had many questioning how social networking could be used as a valuable, and profitable, business tool. Given the recent horrors Facebook has endured because of its sketchy ad program, however, it will be interesting to see how things pan out in '08.

Speaking of the 'net, 2007 saw the amount of content available online ramp up to phenomenal proportions. As more content, from text to images, music, and video, finds its way online as another means of distribution, we'll likely see more controversy surrounding the subject. One of the big stories of 2007, aside from the ongoing disputes about unauthorized distribution, was the Hollywood Writer's Guild strike, which was fueled predominantly by their alleged lack of compensation for content that was distributed online. Meanwhile, just today, Apple announced that Canadians would finally be able to download TV programming via (albeit a much smaller selection than in the U.S., but it's a start). Potential new Canadian copyright laws could also affect the way content is available online in the new year.

In imaging, some of the biggest trends included more megapixels (despite the fact that many thought the megapixel race was finally over); and advanced features like Face Detection and image stabilization techniques. But we also saw advances in multifunctionality, like WiFi capability, more advanced video capture, and neat, personalization and aesthetic features. Although some thought that, with mobile phone cameras getting better and better, it would spell the demise of the entry-level digicam market, a just-released In-Stat study shows we have a long way to go before this happens. With that said, we can likely expecta slew of cooler and fancier digicams to hit the market in 2008.

All of this, believe it or not, merely scratches the surface of what was "hot" in 2007. Stay tuned for further blog entries about 2007 trends; and make sure to check out Gordon Brockhouse's 2007 trends article in the December issue of Marketnews Magazine.

[Photo: Media servers were a hot topic in 2007, and will likely remain so in 2008. As one example, using the MediaMax HD and its MediaServer, customers can instantly play back all of their stored media, including HD and SD DVD movies, CD, MP3 and WAV music, photos and downloaded movies, and music (via the new Axonix NetPlay service). Any media can be played simultaneously in any room.]

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