Neville Hobson

Better understanding Gartner’s hype cycles

Over the years, IT industry analysts Gartner have published annual ‘hype cycle‘ reports that assess where specific technologies are going in the coming years. What’s hot and what’s not, in other words.

Take the latest one on emerging technologies, for instance.

Interesting to see what’s close to or at the Peak of Inflated Expectations at the moment: private cloud computing, augmented reality, media tablets (such as the iPad), wireless power, 3D flat-panel TVs and displays, and activity streams, among others.

Equally interesting is what’s slipping down the slope to the Trough of Disillusionment: e-book readers, for instance, and public virtual worlds. A key trick is how long such technologies stay in that trough before scooting out and up the Slope of Enlightenment.

[Later] One of the technologies shown on the rise in the emerging tech hype cycle chart is autonomous vehicles – a ‘transformational technology, says Gartner, although they see it as being at least ten years to mainstream adoption. That means experimentation and early adoption in the early stages, something we’re hearing a lot about from Google in recent days with widespread reporting and commentary on their self-drive vehicle experiments. A technology trigger playing out to a global audience. I wonder how Google’s highly-visible and driven (pun not intended) activity will influence Gartner’s predictions on either the expectation or time axis, or both.

If you’ve never encountered the hype cycles before, understanding the five phases is essential to getting a good sense of Gartner’s predictions and, so, seeing their relevance and context to what you’re interested in.

Luckily, Gartner has posted this helpful explanatory graphic that tells you all you need to know.

Gartner explains:

Gartner analysts position technologies along the Hype Cycle based on a consensus assessment of hype and maturity. To represent the varying speeds, all technologies on the Hype Cycle are assigned to a “years to mainstream adoption” category (for example, two to five years), representing how long they will take to reach the Plateau of Productivity from their current position on the Hype Cycle — that is, how far they are from the start of mainstream adoption.

Hype Cycles help technology planners to decide when to invest in that technology. A Hype Cycle is a useful educational tool that:

  • Establishes the expectation that most technologies will inevitably progress through the pattern of overenthusiasm and disillusionment before proving their real value.
  • Provides a snapshot of the relative level and pace of maturity of technologies within a certain segment of the IT world, such as a technology area, horizontal or vertical business market, or a certain demographic audience.
  • Has a simple and clear message. Companies should not invest in a technology just because it is being hyped, nor should they ignore a technology just because it is not living up to early overexpectations.

Last week, Gartner published Hype Cycles 2010, a special report embracing 75 individual hype cycle reports that analyse  more than 1,800 technologies and trends.

Get them all in one convenient package.

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