Dec 142016

One of the useful tools in describing how technology is accepted by the market and society is the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Developed by the consulting firm, it describes the typical pattern of a technology product where at first it is ignored, then hyped before falling into the ‘Trough of Disillusionment” before maturing to find a productive role in the marketplace.

The curve though isn’t perfect – many products crash without making the ‘plateau of productivity’ and every technology has its own unique timeframe. Gartner’s role as technology analysts as commercial considerations come into play as well.

Given those imperfections, it’s worthwhile tracking how some of the technologies did on the hype cycle and how Gartner’s predictions went and on Imgur, Anton Tarasenkno has posted all the the Gartner end of year hype cycles from 2000 onwards to give us that opportunity.

PDAs and Smartphones

The ‘Personal PDA’ illustrates how technologies evolve and the original concepts become a dead end.

In 2001, the Personal Digital Assistant – devices like the Palm Pilot, Sharp Zaurus and HP iPac – were the productivity must have for connected workers and Gartner flagged them to be on the ‘Plateau of Productivity in between three to five years.

They never made it. The entire category crashed due to to poor product releases, confusing software wars – the buggy mess that Microsoft Windows CE scared many consumers away – and the rise of smartphones.

PDA’s vanish from the Gartner cycle in 2003 and three years later Smartphones make an appearance grinding their way up to the ‘Plateau of Productivity’.

There is a fair argument that smartphones are an evolution of the PDA – although not one of the PDA vendors or operating systems actually made it onto successful smartphones – but it does seem a bit of a sleight of hand simply to substitute one for the other.

As it turns out though, the 2006 prediction for the smartphone was spot on given the iPhone was released the following year.

Cloud computing

The evolution of ‘cloud computing’ is an interesting tale in itself. At the time of the 2000 Gartner hype cycle is was being described as Application Service Providers (ASPs) although the concept and technology could claim to be the descendent of the much earlier time shared mainframe computing systems leased out primarily by IBM.

In the 2000 Hype Cycle Gartner has ASPs just past the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ and this was a fair call as ASPs were dragged down by the general ennui following the Tech Wreck a year later which saw the technology close to the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’.

ASPs then vanish for four years before reappearing as ‘Software as a Service/ASP’ in 2005 on the grind up to the ‘Plateau of Productivity.’

Portal mania

In the early days of the World Wide Web, portals were hot. On the public web, Yahoo! and MSN were expected to be the go-to destination for surfers while within large organisations, the intranet page was expected to be the centre of all corporate knowledge and the first place employees were expected to log into in the morning.

For the 2003 hype cycle, Gartner’s analysts certainly believed in portals with twelve different types of portals or related technology listed. The following year, the number had grown to fifteen.

Interestingly, the most advanced portal technology on the curve, ‘mobile access to portals’, was stuck climbing out the trough for both of those years. That probably indicates even Gartner’s enthusiasm for the term and the technology was enough to prevent the idea being overtaken by search and social media.

Looking to the future

While it’s entertaining with the benefit of hindsight to look at where Gartner’s predictions of more than a decade ago, it is worthwhile considering what the company’s analysts are predicting this year.

Virtual reality is the tech clawing its way up out of the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ while augmented reality is hurtling towards the depths. Both are flagged to be mainstream on a five to ten year horizon.

At the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ sits Machine Learning with the connected home and Blockchain approaching the top. Towards the start of the curve are technologies like Quantum Computing and human augmentation, both are flagged to be more than ten years away from gaining mainstream adoption.

Picking apart the Gartner Hype Cycle is a useful exercise in understanding the limits of the idea as well as reminding us of just how difficult it is to predict how technologies will mature and be accepted by society and industry.


  One Response to “De-hyping the hype cycle”

  1. No, the Hype curve is mainly hype, and everybody seems to be busy trying to bend things to show that the hype curve makes sense . . .
    The fact that a technology or product range is replaced by another has nothing to do with the hype curve.

    So when is the hype curve valid: the hype curve is valid when it is created by people that willingly create hype.
    Examples: IoT, Cloud, electric cars, autonomous driving . . .
    Recipe: ‘exploding’, ‘in the next 5 years’, . . . .
    Take autonomous driving: it took about 10 years to introduce catalytic exhausts in the car park, so why would it take 3 years to introduce autonomous driving, while the SAE roadmap shows a much longer time necessary to develop autonomous driving . . .

    In a meeting I asked people to identify where their technologies were in the hype curve, and my colleagues could not answer the question: fortunately, they passed the test of serious researchers with common sense.

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