E-book readers have bottomed out, Internet TV is nearing the peak of inflated expectations, location-aware apps have emerged onto the plateau of productivity, and augmented reality is beginning a long slide into the trough of disillusionment.
At least these are the conclusions from the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2011, an annual report from market research firm Gartner that positions emerging technologies on a rather dizzying roller-coaster graph from research and development to mainstream adoption.
Each technology starts with a "Technology Trigger" and rides up a "Peak of Inflated Expectations," down a "Trough of Disillusionment," then up a "Slope of Enlightenment" before reaching a "Plateau of Productivity."
Sounds more like a Zen monk's career path or the arc of a Hollywood thriller than a road map for a technology such as e-books.
The report also predicts how far the following technologies are from mainstream use:
Wireless power, speech recognition, media
tablets and QR codes are 2 to 5 years away.
3D printing, virtual assistants, augmented reality, Internet TV, and contactless payment systems are 5 to 10 years away.
Brain-computer interfaces, mobile robots, human augmentation, and quantum computing are more than 10 years out.
New items on the list this year include 3D bioprinting; social TV; the "Internet of Things" (which involves tying physical things, via sensors and embedded computers, into the Internet and was called the "real-world Web" in earlier Gartner research); and gamification.
The report is aimed at IT professionals, so what it calls mainstream is really more about business adoption. After all, the report counts activity streams (e.g. Facebook's news feed), app stores, and media tablets as emerging technologies. And it lists tablets as only beginning the slide from hype to disillusionment.
So while this report might be useful for predicting when a business case emerges for adopting a given technology, us gadget freaks might be better served by Bill Buxton's simpler Long Nose theory. The idea is that technologies don't burst onto the scene so much as step into the spotlight after years of development and limited adoption.
Follow this theory, and you too might be able to spot the next iPhone. And maybe you'll be able to tell whether it's standing high atop the peak of inflated expectations or plunging into the trough of disillusionment.