The Gartner hype cycle: a personal take

Waymo autonomous car in the wild streets of suburbia

It’s time for my annual look at Gartner’s hype cycle, where I pick out the technology trends that interested me and how they’ve played out in Silicon Valley and outside it. I love looking at this analysis first and foremost because it adds perspective to the often subjective opinion of leading edge tech that we have here. For example, not a day goes by where I don’t see a few Waymo self-driving cars and Teslas of all models in my neighborhood. Traveling in other states this summer made me realize just how rare it is to even see one. Without further ado:

Gartner’s Hype Cycle, the last four years.
Source: Gartner 2015, Gartner 2016, Gartner 2017, Gartner 2018

Let’s dive in with maybe the number one most hyped technology this past year: cryptocurrency. Last year, Gartner had blockchain on the verge of slipping from the Peak of Inflated Expectations into the Trough of Disillusionment. They added: “With bitcoin and Ethereum constantly in the news, blockchain might seem like it’s just around the corner. However, most initiatives are still in alpha or beta stage.” Yet it was only four months later that everyone from my aunt to almost every tech VIP (but not Warren Buffett) started dipping their toes into Bitcoin and occasionally other cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin peaked at $19,783 on December 17th, 2017 and is now back into stabler mode. During this past year, currencies have risen and fallen, exchanges have launched and crashed, and it seems like cryptocurrency has gone through the entire hype cycle in just a few months. That said, even though the mainstream seems to understand cryptocurrency, it’s far from understanding blockchain, which may be why Gartner decided not to change either location or the estimated time to the Plateau of Productivity.

Commercial drones have left the hype cycle, with product lines at every price range from multiple manufacturers. Virtual reality has also reached mainstream adoption, though not quite as accessible as drones, unless the headset is cardboard and a phone. Joking aside, two weeks ago Facebook launched a self-contained VR headset so convincing that all critics had to say is that a lot of free space is needed to play games with it. And while VR left the hype cycle while AR is still deep in the trough, perhaps still wanting for the right hardware.

Autonomous vehicles have slipped deeper into the through in 2018 and also renamed autonomous driving level 4 – “mind off”. Considering that autonomous vehicles were at the peak of hype in 2016, this new classification shows that first, level 3 – “eyes off”, has made it into the mainstream and that second, the industry and technology have matured enough perhaps to be a bit more practical and precise about its goals and what the current technology can achieve.

With virtual assistant powered smart speakers now in one out of 3 US homes and predicted to be in over half of them after this upcoming holiday season, and assistant enabled smartphones everywhere, it seems that 2-5 years until adoption of assistants by the mainstream is a bit far. Considering Google’s impressive demonstration of Duplex at its annual developers conference in May, where a voice assistant placed a call to book a restaurant reservation that convincingly mimicked a human interaction, it seems that virtual assistants are closer to the mainstream than that.

Connected home is perhaps truly on the way down: broken trust with hacked personal data, malfunctions in critical functions, overzealous, from the consumers’ perspective, data collection, and solutions that aren’t doing enough to persuade mainstream audiences to adopt them (hello Amazon microwave!) The slide down isn’t surprising and maybe it will take 5-10 years before the industry figures out how to deliver trustworthy and compelling connected home products.

Finally, it’s been a year of more reckoning with data collection and data breaches than has been reflected in this hype cycle. Increasing consumer awareness of what data is collected about them and how it’s used could significantly alter adoption of smarter devices, be they in the home, the car, or as wearables. This awareness could also drive the industry to shift to products that respect user privacy, and maybe reach the mainstream in a completely different way.

Till next year!

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