The Gartner Hype Cycle – a peak of expectations?

The 2012 edition of the Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies is out - and there's a huge cluster of technologies at the peak of hype right now.

The new Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies hit the web earlier this month, but if it hadn’t been for a tweet from Joanne Jacobs, I’d have missed it entirely:


Time was that the release of the hype cycle was a major point of discussion across the tech-leaning web, but no longer. That seems a shame – especially as there’s some interesting and relevant information in there still. For those unfamiliar with the hype cycle, it postulates a journey for all emerging technologies, that pass through a trigger phase, a peak of inflated expectations, then slump down into disillusionment, and then build their way up through steady wide scale adoption (the slope of enlightenment) until they hit the plateau of productivity. Each technology is plotted somewhere along the graph, with an indication of its time to productivity.

Some of the results are intuitively obvious: media tablets (the catch-all term for iPads and their competitors) are on the slope of enlightenment, and moving rapidly towards the plateau of productivity, one of the fastest transitions I’ve seen in a decade of watching these hype cycles.

3D Printing – a big theme of this year’s NEXT conference – is right at the peak of inflated expectations, much to my surprise. Its fellow peakster, bring your own devices, seems to be far more in the public consciousness than it, and perhaps that’s reflected in its shorter time to the productivity plateau: 2 to 5 years for BYOD, 5 to 10 years for 3D printing. As the summary of the cycle says:

In this scenario, 3D printing allows consumers to print physical objects, such as toys or housewares, at home, just as they print digital photos today. Combined with 3D scanning, it may be possible to scan certain objects with a smartphone and print a near-duplicate. Analysts predict that 3D printing will take more than five years to mature beyond the niche market.

It’s well worth watching what the niche market are doing with the technology to get a feel of how a huge segment of consumer goods might look in a decade’s time…

Conversely, the Internet of Things, another big theme throughout this year’s event, is still right down in the incipient Technology Trigger stage, with more than a decade to go before widespread adoption, based on the Gartner predictions – that puts it behind self-driving cars!

Big Data – the theme of 2011’s conference – is labouring its way up to the peak of inflated expectations, but with a two to five year slog to true of productivity. I buy that – for all the buzz around the term, it’s being misapplied to things that manifestly aren’t big data, and the hype and reality will need a little while to settle out.

I’m slightly surprised to see both gamification and HTML5 a way off the peak of hype, which makes me shudder to think how much gamification might end up hyped (and how bad the resultant crash may be).

Al in all, it’s a cramped, busy curve this year, with multiple technologies and ideas fighting for attention and adoption. Gartner itself characterises it as a year of tipping points:

We are at an interesting moment, a time when many of the scenarios we’ve been talking about for a long time are almost becoming reality,” said Hung LeHong, research vice president at Gartner. “The smarter smartphone is a case in point. It’s now possible to look at a smartphone and unlock it via facial recognition, and then talk to it to ask it to find the nearest bank ATM. However, at the same time, we see that the technology is not quite there yet. We might have to remove our glasses for the facial recognition to work, our smartphones don’t always understand us when we speak, and the location-sensing technology sometimes has trouble finding us.

It’s an interesting viewpoint. The explosion is personal technology devices – largely the smartphone and the tablet – have given us an unbridled enthusiasm for the power of technology, once that it’s quite being fulfilled. With so many technologies clustered around the peak of inflated expectations, I hope we’ll see many of them move rapidly through the disillusionment stage and into enlightenment – because if we don’t, I fear we’ll have a rather nasty technology backlash on our hands in the next few years.