The Biggest News At CES 2007 Was From A Company That Didn't Even Have A Booth

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To say the tech industry is tumultuous is an understatement, but January 2007 will be remembered as a true turning point. For those at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that month, the digital home was the biggest, hottest story. But a product launch at another show in another state changed those conversations. On Jan. 9, Apple debuted the iPhone, the first functional smartphone for the internet age.

In a quick look through CRN's news archives, I found some stories that recall that pivotal month in the IT industry.

"Everybody was at CES calling each other on their cellphone to see what [Apple CEO Steve] Jobs did at Macworld," one technology reseller told CRN at the time. "That's pretty cool. Let's face it. Jobs is an icon. He's clever. The stuff he does is brilliant, and his products are pretty good."

"Look at the software Apple built in this device. It is unbelievable," one service provider exec told CRN. "The thing that blows my mind is just the [internet] browsing experience. I have never seen anything like that."

That effusive exec was Glenn Lurie, president of national distribution for Cingular. Cingular held a press conference at CES and showed off the iPhone to press and analysts. Cingular was the exclusive cellular provider for the iPhone when it launched. It was later fully acquired by co-owner AT&T, and Lurie is now president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Operations.

What else was hot stuff 10 years ago? Sony launched its "internet-ready" TVs and was one of several companies trying to find that perfect marriage of internet content and pay TV.

Even massive consumer electronics vendors found that bringing streaming video to consumer TVs required a lot of moving parts. "To watch internet video on TV, owners of compatible Sony televisions -- initially Sony's Bravia S-series flat-panel LCD high-definition models -- will have to purchase the Bravia Internet Video Link module," CRN reported. 

Indeed, the urge to bring the choice and spontaneity of the internet to the living room was a challenge. And that challenge required more boxes.

AMD took on that challenge by building a "set-top box with PC technology that's intended to serve as a 'perfect mate' to a flat-panel TV and a DVD player," CRN reported.

AMD's reference design of a sort of "entertainment server" included a DVD player and recorder, it could surf the web and it acted as a hub for the family's digital photos and music, so those files wouldn't pile up on their PCs. The reference design of the AMD Live Home Media Server platform would yield a device that was expected to sell for $1,000 to $3,000 each.

Netgear also debuted an internet receiver for TVs – a PC-like device that did all the things we expect from the cloud today. The thought of a device that "automatically discovers and organizes in a single library media files from other devices attached to a home network" sounded like magic.

Apple hopped into that market, too, as it unveiled the original Apple TV during the same Macworld event that is remembered as the iPhone's debut. The original Apple TV didn't have Netflix. It did have a hard drive, but it wasn't quite a TiVo. "We specialize in explaining it and demystifying it for consumers," said an executive at TekServe, a New York City Apple partner, at the time.

The digital home fever was contagious in 2007 and the idea of interconnected devices in the home powering a high-end consumer audio, video and internet experience was incredibly appealing. Unfortunately for solution providers, the technology and connectivity just wasn't there yet. Consumers were frustrated as they were promised an immersive home theater and were left with a bunch of disconnected devices.

"Part of the blame for the unrealistic expectations, digital integrators say, is big-box retailers with inexperienced sales staff pushing home theater and digital home solutions that just don't work," CRN reported at the time. "Trying to fix such a system is like trying to fix a house that has been built with a faulty foundation," one tech reseller told CRN. "No one wants to take that job."

As CES 2007 wrapped up, the industry seemed to have two very clear thoughts. On the one hand, a bunch of PC-like, multifunction devices didn't quite feel at home in the digital living room of the future. On the other hand, Apple's slick, touchscreen smartphone was well on its way to becoming the ultimate all-in-one device.

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