2007: The iPhone has landed

7 Dec 2021

Steve Jobs unveils the first iPhone at Macworld 2007. Image: Apple

The year that Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, Irish tech scored some major multinational deals and the metaverse began to take shape.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021

The same year that ‘additive manufacturing’ was added to the dictionary, Science Foundation Ireland established the Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre to explore game-changing manufacturing technology for the pharmaceutical industry.

Meanwhile, Microsoft was trying to change the game in operating systems as the roll-out of Vista continued with a menu of options to choose from (and even a version as Gaeilge). Choice confusion was just the first of Vista’s issues as the new Windows OS proved an industry-wide disappointment at best and Microsoft’s most maligned operating system at worst.

Something Microsoft got right in 2007, however, was Silverlight, a rich media plug-in challenging Adobe Flash with cross-browser and cross-platform availability. Early clients included Akamai Technologies, Limelight Networks and Netflix. Having started out as an online DVD rental service, Netflix debuted its movie streaming service in 2007, and Silverlight was a core part of its ability to deliver DVD-quality film via the web (as long as you had the bandwidth).

Apple’s touch of genius

At Macworld on 9 January 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the device that would become the year’s fastest rising search term. A touchscreen smartphone with an in-built media player and web browser.

The iPhone certainly didn’t impress Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and, prior to its launch, analysts said that its hefty price tag, starting at $499, could hinder its growth. Released at the end of June, it outsold all other smartphones in the US the following month, leading Apple to a quarterly profit of $818m. It then hit 1m units sold within two months – a milestone that took the iPod two years to reach.

In October, an Irish survey found that 13pc of respondents wanted an iPhone for Christmas, even though its release date in Ireland was yet to be revealed. Nonetheless, there was speculation as to whether the device would be as successful in the competitive European market. Vodafone Germany even secured an injunction to stop iPhone sales in Germany, due to an exclusive deal between Apple and T-Mobile.

Apple itself faced a patent lawsuit over the iPhone’s touchscreen keyboard and was sued by Greenpeace over toxic materials allegedly used in its manufacture.

But while the iPhone took centre stage, an aggressive and ambitious Samsung was on the rise as a mobile vendor.

Playing Havok

In March, when the PlayStation 3 finally arrived in Europe, customers in Ireland eagerly queued outside for the midnight launch. It was far behind the Christmas launch of the new Nintendo Wii, though, and the year saw Sony lose ground to the cheaper console.

The Wii was winning in more ways than one, earning six BAFTA Games awards for Wii Sports, its bestselling game. Meanwhile Microsoft hit a new record when Halo 3 became the most anticipated game release in history with more than 1m pre-orders. Another hugely popular 2007 release was Portal, a highly original puzzle game that was praised for its physics engine.

The in-game physics of Portal, Halo 3 and many more were provided by Irish software company Havok, which helped bring a new level of realism to virtual worlds. The company, founded by Hugh Reynolds and Dr Steve Collins, spun out of the computer science department at Trinity College Dublin in 1998 and, in September 2007, was acquired by Intel for $110m.

This was the second major deal of the year for the Irish gaming sector. Activision, one of the world’s top three games publishers, had previously acquired Ireland’s DemonWare, a middleware provider for the gaming industry.

Collins wanted to see the sector’s success continue with more Havoks and DemonWares developing in Ireland. To see it through, he became director of Trinity’s new master’s in games development.

Before the year was out, a landmark merger brought together Activision, which was behind Guitar Hero and Call of Duty, and Vivendi, the gaming giant behind the World of Warcraft franchise. Activision Blizzard emerged from this $18.9bn deal as the biggest games publisher in the world.

Social goes virtual

Twitter was by now becoming part of our vocabulary with ‘hashtag’ and ‘tweep’ added to dictionary in 2007. And although MySpace continued to see growth in users (and even added a VoIP feature with help from Skype), it was trailing far behind Facebook and Bebo.

Not everyone was a fan, though. Irish entrepreneur Jerry Kennelly hit out at social networks for profiting from advertising on the back of users uploading copyrighted content. And Facebook was forced to backtrack on Beacon, a tool that tracked and shared users’ activity on other sites, following backlash from privacy advocates.

And long before Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg took on the metaverse, the CEO of Linden Lab predicted that virtual worlds would replace the real world as our primary source of socialisation within a decade. Linden Lab was best known for Second Life, yet another game using Havok physics.

In Second Life, players can do everyday things in an alternate online life. University College Dublin even got in on the game, opening a library in the virtual world. People could also create their own virtual worlds with platforms such as Metaplace (yes, you read that right), launched in September 2007.

This proved a perfect time, then, for Science Foundation Ireland to establish the Adapt research centre to focus on digital content and media.

Storage wars

The question of where this proliferation digital media would be stored was addressed in two ways in 2007. The same year that Hitachi unveiled the first 1TB hard disk drive, cloud storage platforms were beginning to take off.

Dropbox started the process of distancing users from their physical footprint in the growing digital landscape. Founders Arash Ferdowsi and Drew Houston gave users around the world remote access to vast server farms under the increasingly misleading moniker of the cloud.

“Over the last 20 years, so many technologies have emerged or become feasible due to increased compute and cheaper storage,” said Fidelity Ireland SVP and Technology Ireland chair Lorna Martyn, reflecting on these past decades.

“Digital has exploded, cloud has emerged, electronics have miniaturised. AI concepts like NLP, ML and deep learning are transported from the university lab or science-fiction movie to enablers of commercial products. We are more connected than ever – and maybe too connected at times. ”

As Dropbox began building its cloud, Amazon’s was expanding. Amazon Web Services (AWS) chose Ireland as the site of its first infrastructure region outside of the US in 2007. Today, it operates 26 of these regions around the world, and these sites and their multiple data centres have helped AWS become the backbone of the global internet by providing round-the-clock, reliable connectivity.

“We’ve been committed to Ireland since 2007, and we’re proud to have played a small role in Ireland’s growth as a centre of tech innovation,” said Mike Beary, country manager for AWS Ireland.

As well as contributing to global internet infrastructure, AWS has impacted Irish business. “Irish companies like Hanley Energy, Danann Air and Collen Construction have been able to grow alongside AWS and are now exporting to countries around the world,” Beary added.

In other news

22 January: TK Maxx customers in Ireland are warned that their credit card details may have been compromised following a hack of the retailer’s parent company in the US.

2 February: An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the science of climate change concludes it is “very likely” that human activities are responsible for global temperatures rising.

19 February: The arrival of Tumblr is announced in a blogpost from founder David Karp.

22 March: Apple TV, a device to connect iTunes to your TV, starts shipping.

23 April: Amazon reveals plans to open a 450-strong customer service centre in Cork.

24 April: Scientists discover Gliese 581c, an extrasolar planet they believe could support Earth-like forms of life.

27 April: A series of DDoS attacks shut down many of Estonia’s government websites. The cyberattacks are attributed to Russian hackers responding to a decision to move a Soviet-era war memorial from a park.

15 May: The Scratch website Scratch.mit.edu goes online, starting a revolution in computer science education for complete beginners.

30 May: CBS buys music recommendation engine and social network Last.fm for $280m.

20 June: Manhunt II becomes the first video game to be banned in Ireland owing to its excessive violence.

23 June: Nvidia releases CUDA, enabling developers to accelerate compute-intensive applications by harnessing the power of GPUs through parallel computing. This development would see applications beyond gaming and into scientific research and deep learning.

7 July: Nine cities host Live Earth concerts to spread environmental awareness.

4 August: Nathan Davalos and Kelly Kane get married both IRL and online in the game in which they met, EverQuest.

9 August: BNP Paribas freezes three investment funds valued at more than $2bn because of a “complete evaporation of liquidity in certain market segments”. This was the start of the global fallout from the US subprime mortgage crisis.

10 September: A report warns that stealing online gaming accounts will become as profitable as stealing from bank accounts.

14 September: The magazine Science publishes an article declaring ‘Checkers is solved’ using AI.

25 September: Limerick-born neurologist Dr Phil Kennedy, ‘Father of the Cyborgs’, is awarded a patent for an implantable electrode that can generate speech from brain activity.

12 October: The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded jointly to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”.

26 October: Apple’s sixth major Mac operating system, Leopard, is released.

7 November: A 238-page manual for US army protocol at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is published on WikiLeaks.

19 November: The US release of the Amazon Kindle sees such high demand that it will sell out in record time.

11 December: Mobile gaming shows stronger growth than console gaming in 2007.

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