Augmented Reality and Gartner’s Hype Cycle

Industry watcher and analyst firm Gartner has been studying emerging technologies for over 20 years. The company has become widely recognized for publishing its annual Hype Cycle, the chart that captures Gartner analysts’ assessments of the maturity of emerging information and communication technologies.

Interpreting the Hype Cycle

As stated on Gartner’s website, the chart is designed for the firm’s clients : “Clients use Hype Cycles to get educated about the promise of an emerging technology within the context of their industry and individual appetite for risk.”

The sidebar on the same page goes on to suggest that the Hype Cycle:

  • Separates hype from the real drivers of a technology’s commercial promise
  • Reduces the risk of your technology investment decisions
  • Compares your understanding of a technology’s business value with the objectivity of experienced IT analysts

In my slides introducing the March AREA webinar on the topic of forecasting the growth of enterprise Augmented Reality, I provided 15 Hype Cycle figures of the years between 2000 and 2015 showing where Gartner placed Augmented Reality. These figures were compiled by Dr. Robin (Rab) Scott of the AMRC, an AREA member, and used in the webinar with Dr. Scott’s permission.

The figures show how this influential firm has followed Augmented Reality for over a decade. I pointed out in my remarks that readers should not interpret the position of any technology on the Gartner curve as highly definitive.

Looking at Gartner’s positioning of Augmented Reality over the years, and anticipating the 2016 Hype Cycle to be published, I am recommending in this post that Gartner consider treating Augmented Reality and its associated technologies as separate nodes on the cycle. By giving more attention to AR’s enabling technologies Gartner will help its clients better achieve their goals and better serve our industry.

Augmented Reality Isn’t One Technology

My primary concern about Augmented Reality appearing as a dot on the Gartner 2015 Hype Cycle is that it suggests that Augmented Reality is one technology. I don’t think this was ever the case in the past and it certainly isn’t today.

In its press release about last year’s Hype Cycle, the company stated that more than 2,000 technologies were studied. It would be helpful if the firm pointed out which of the hundreds of AR-enabling technologies it considered in positioning the “whole AR” on its cycle.

In my opinion Gartner needs to begin explaining how technologies are treated differently. For instance, some technologies on the cycle are “general” (representing many enablers at different stages of evolution), and others are not. In 2015, for example, brain-computer interfaces are in the first phase. Gesture control technologies, another relatively precise technology label, are on the slope of enlightenment. Another example is natural language question answering (very specific technology, in my framework but probably also composed of many enablers), which is positioned on the line between Peak of Inflated Expectations and the Trough of Disillusionment. And, by the way, when will the questions asked be answered correctly all the time?

On the other hand, Augmented Reality is not the only example of the ambiguity and confusion caused when a general category is represented as a dot on the cycle. For example, wearables and Internet of Things are other labels (represented as dots) on the 2015 Hype Cycle that could benefit from being represented by an array of enabling technologies (or are they enablers?).

In my opinion, the company would better serve its clients and readers by tracing the progress of some of the important enablers or components for AR and other technologically-powered systems, such as autonomous driving vehicles. A few components that I have recently studied for a technology maturity assessment, and that I believe should be added to the Hype Cycle, include:

  • Depth-sensing technologies
  • Computer vision-based 3D target object recognition and tracking
  • Optics for use in wearable displays
  • Gaze detection and tracking technologies

Enlightenment Is a Process

Enlightenment about the benefits of a technology does not happen by simply turning on a light. The processes by which technologies move from barely understood to mainstream use differ widely.

Twenty-five years ago I began reading and writing about the future with multimedia information. Multimedia was not on the Gartner curve in 2000 because it had already reached something approaching maturity; now it’s an archaic term. I have been an outspoken proponent for the adoption of mobile technologies for over 12 years. Mobile technology was not a dot on the Gartner curve in 2004 but its enablers such as MMS and 802.11 g certainly were.

Would it not be better to leave Augmented Reality off of the 2016 and future Hype Cycle figures and, rather, to point the spotlight on the state of dozens of key enablers?

Do you feel the Gartner Hype Cycle correctly portrays the state of Augmented Reality? What would you like to see added or removed from the Gartner Hype Cycle in 2016?

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