For the past few years I’ve taken a look at Gartner’s Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle as a way of following what products and technologies make it out of the Silicon Valley bubble and into the real world. It’s an interesting yet in some way humbling exercise to see what products that we think are the best thing since sliced bread never make it out of the Trough of Disillusionment. Quick reminder: Gartner maps technologies on its Hype Cycle as Expectations as a function of time. They describe the first, exciting part of the Hype Cycle as the Innovation Trigger, which peaks at the second stage, aptly named the Peak of Inflated Expectations. The third, downward slope is called the Trough of Disillusionment. The successful technologies and products slowly make their way out onto the Slope of Enlightenment and graduate to widespread market adoption in the Plateau of Productivity.
First thing I looked for this year was what Gartner thinks of voice-activated smart speakers such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, and the yet-to-be-released Apple HomePod and Facebook’s Aloha. Since last summer’s report Home and Echo have seen a jump in sales and in the 2016 holiday season, “US sales jumped nearly 1,000% from the same period a year earlier. But even outside the holidays — when about three out of every four smart speakers was sold last year —sales have been up 39 percent on a year-over-year basis… Google Home topped US online sales of smart speakers during the holidays, Amazon’s Echo Dot — which sells for less than half the price — held that title in the first quarter.” Yet what’s interesting about that report, from only two months ago, is that “49% of U.S. consumers don’t use voice assistants. Half of the potential market still needs convincing that voice assistants are the wave of the future, and companies need to ensure that newcomers have a positive first impression.”
The Hype Cycle reflects this spurt in adoption. In 2016 Natural Language Question Answering, what I see as one component of smart speakers, was sliding into the Trough of Disillusionment but expected to reach mainstream adoption. This year, it’s off the chart which I take to mean it has reached adoption faster than predicted. The other component of smart speakers are Virtual Assistants, which remain just under the Peak this year. This could indicate that Gartner believes that while smart speakers are becoming more widespread, it’s their capability to interact and answer questions via voice that are more valued by consumers than assistants. This will change as assistants become more versatile and voice interactions become easier. Google, at least, placed an emphasis on creating more apps for Assistant at their annual I/O conference, which bodes well for this technology.
Second technology I’ve been following is AR. At their F8 conference this year, Facebook demoed fun VR products but it was their talk about AR that I found most interesting. Michael Abrash, the chief scientist for Oculus, talked about some potential uses for AR that have some fascinating implementations, especially when enhanced by the social graph. He talked about near term applications such as seeing your friends dish recommendations on a restaurant menu and some (very) far but amazing applications such as adding name labels for people you know in a crowd. Yet Abrash added that “real, always-on augmented reality glasses are at least five years away. And that was his early estimate. He also said it’s possible we’re 10 years out.” Interestingly, adoption is moving faster than predicted for VR. Gartner places VR well on its way to adoption on the Slope of Enlightenment for 2017, where it was last year as well, but this time with an expected time to reach the Plateau in 2-5 years as opposed to 5-10 last year. AR has spent the last few years slowly sliding into the trough and Gartner placed it at lowest point of the Trough for 2017, with expected time to reach plateau in 5-10 years, matching Abrash’s prediction for glasses.
Third, IoT. I’m rather surprised that Gartner still sees IoT platforms and the connected home at the Peak of Inflated Expectations where I see them somewhere in the Trough of Disillusionment. That said, last year Gartner moved IoT itself (meaning devices?) off the Cycle and into the Plateau but left these two at the peak. It seems that IoT is at a crossroads of sorts. Devices themselves have been “smartened” in various ways, with varying success but the platforms connecting them into a usable tool aren’t quite there yet. Moreover, there is a disillusionment from what a connected, smart home will eventually be capable of and it may be that consumers aren’t quite ready to pay a premium for connected devices vs those that do their job.
Fourth, self-driving or, as Gartner calls them, Autonomous Vehicles. These are one of the few items on the Cycle with a 10 year or greater adoption prediction but the only one on the way down from the Peak into the Trough. Interestingly enough, in 2015 and in the years before, Autonomous Vehicles were slowly climbing up the cycle but had a prediction of 5 to 10 years to reach the plateau. In 2016 and 2017, they have not only started sliding down, but their adoption horizon has been pushed back. It’s interesting to note, though, that almost every major car company now has offices in Silicon Valley and is working on some version of this.
Finally, I’m surprised drones are still on the Cycle – they seem to have been widely adopted by everyone from ecommerce giants to wedding photographers. Everyone seems to know what they are and how they’re used and they’re so common there is already government regulation on where and how to use them. Maybe next year they’ll be firmly in the Plateau of Productivity?
Till next year!