As far as hype cycles go, you can't get any hotter than 3-D TV, augmented reality, or tablets like the iPad, argues a new report.
But with hype comes a backlash, and that's what technologies like microblogging (think Twitter), e-readers and virtual worlds are facing.
So say the tech analysts at Gartner, who have worked up their annual "hype cycle" report, complete with a handy chart that shows which technologies are just starting to build buzz, which ones are at the absolute pinnacle of hype (or the "peak of inflated expectations"), which are suffering the inevitable backlash (the marvelously named "trough of disillusionment") and finally—for tech that manages to reach maturity—which have reached the "plateau of productivity" (otherwise known as the "backlash to the backlash").
Before we dive in, keep in mind that Gartner's annual hype report isn't really meant for regular consumers like you and me; rather, it's intended to be a practical guide for "C-level" executives (CEOs, CTOs and the like) and other corporate "decision makers" struggling to figure out whether, say, to give brand-new iPads to everyone on staff. And as for how Gartner arrived at its conclusions, I figure we're talking a combination of number-crunching, informed guesses and gut feelings.
Still, Gartner's "hype" chart serves as a great jumping-off point for debating which technologies are on the verge of breaking through to the mainstream, which ones are have been hyped to death, and those that could actually make it in the long haul—because, after all, just because a product's been hyped doesn't mean it won't deliver the goods.
So, which technologies happen to be on the rise right now—according to Gartner, at least? Well, we've got "human augmentation" (could it be the Borg?), along with computer-brain interfaces (I've seen some pretty scary sci-fi movies about those), automated cars (yep, count on Google to already be aboard that bandwagon), 3-D printing (think printers that can produce actual 3-D objects) and Internet TV (hey, there's Google again).
Then we've got Gartner's take on the technologies that are everywhere right now, all standing astride the "peak of inflated expectations," including augmented reality (like those iPhone and Android apps that let you view your immediate surrounds with a virtual, digital overlay of, say, the nearest subway stations or restaurants), 3-D TV (which I'd argue is already on the downswing), "media tablets" like the iPad (which, suddenly, are coming from all the major tech manufacturers), speedy 4G data networks (like those on the way from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon) and cloud computing.
Next comes the backlash, and wallowing in Gartner's "trough of disillusionment" we find microblogging (no wonder so many people groan at the first mention of Twitter), e-book readers (huh—I'd actually put e-readers like the Kindle into the "backlash to the backlash" category), power-line broadband (which never really got off the ground), gesture recognition (watch out, PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect), and public virtual worlds (which, I'm guessing, refers to such massively overhyped online services as Second Life).
But after the backlash, we've got the "slope of enlightenment," as Gartner calls it—technologies that are approaching maturity, like biometric authentication (as in using your thumbprint to log into your laptop), e-paper (the easy-to-read, low-power displays on devices like the Kindle), speech recognition (which is getting to be a must-have in cell phones, particularly when you're behind the wheel) and "location-aware applications" (which I'm assuming covers such ubiquitous, taken-for-granted technologies as GPS).
Interesting stuff—and almost totally subjective, of course, not to mention subject to change over time. According to last year's edition of Gartner's "Hype Cycle" report, for example, 3-D TV was still in the "early buzz" period, while e-readers and microblogging hadn't yet been hit with a backlash.
Of course, none of this would be fun if we couldn't argue about it, right? So tell me: Which technologies do you think are peaking on the hype-o-meter this year—and which ones will actually mature into everyday products? Where did Gartner get it right—or wrong? Fire away below.
(Chart credit: Gartner, Inc.)
— Ben Patterson is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.