Technological trends may come and go, but every once in awhile they turn out to be more than just temporary fads. Consider that many of today's gamers weren't even born yet in the Atari 2600's heyday, yet 30 years later gaming consoles have become so popular that there exists an entire generation of FPS junkies who actually prefer lining up a headshot with a gamepad instead of using a keyboard and mouse. And speaking of videogames, let's not forget the 3D revolution sparked by the now defunct 3DFX (moment of silence).
More than just fun and games, recognizing lasting fads can prove lucrative for companies and upstarts who ride the hype, but it's not always easy predicting where PCs are headed. If we were to look back 10 years from now, what would we say were most influential technologies of the time? No need to hop into your time machine, because with the help of Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory company, we answer that question right now.
Going green has nothing to do with the Incredible Hulk and everything to do with an awareness towards protecting the environment while technological strides are being made. Never has there been more societal pressure for environmentally sustainable solutions in the IT world than there is now, which has paved the way for everything from tree hugging hard drives to companies committing to making themselves carbon neutral.
You've heard of outsourcing tech support, but how about outsourcing technologies into a metaphorical cloud? The movement has come as companies look for ways to keep all their IT services without breaking the bank, and that means drawing on a broad range of services (storage, business applications, computational power, etc) off-site. The idea has become so trendy that Dell wants to trademark the term, and cloud computing(™?) has drawn tech giants HP, Intel, and Yahoo into a collaboration to create virtual research centers built with the sole goal of figuring out how to make huge scale computing reliable, manageable, and secure.
Social Computing Platforms
America On-Line may have started the trend, but today the social networking torch is being carried by MySpace, Facebook, and other similar sites where users can stay connected with more friends than they could ever hoped to have made back in high school. Gartner calls the social networking scene a "phenomenal success," and companies are taking notice. The massive online global playground provides an audience both large and easily accessible for developers to plug into, such as Meebo is doing with its Community IM. With business meetings taking place in virtual environments like Second Life, social computing looks to stick around for a long, long time.
Gone are the days of blurry webcams with jumpy video, and today high-end videoconferencing systems are utilizing large, high-definition displays. The ability to travel out of country yet still participate in a board room meeting with life-size images being beamed back to the conference has presented a stronger sense of in-room presence between remote participants than has been previously possible. It might not be cost effective just yet, but look for videoconferencing to play a growing role in the next decade as the world continues to get connected, and don't be surprised to holograms get in on the action too.
Thanks to Twitter, Maximum PC readers can keep tabs on how Editor-in-Chief Will Smith's vacation is going, or if you prefer, open your own account and post a stream of short messages about how your day is going, what you're up to, and other tidbits your long distance family and friends might be interested in reading. Better than text messaging, companies are investigating microblogging's role in enhancing other social media and channels, and this train only looks to pick up more steam as time goes on.
The Hype Cycle and Looking Forward
While it's entirely possible that one or two of these technologies will either last for years to come or morph into something else that will, the most likely scenario is each one will reach its pinnacle in two years' time and begin to whither away as other technologies take their place. Just as you don't see anyone wearing bell-bottoms anymore, technologies like Twitter and cloud computing could also find themselves equally outdated. Don't believe it? See if you can recognize past technologies that have fallen into the 5 phaes of a Hype Cycle:
"Technology Trigger" - In this first phase, a new product or service bursts onto the scene and enjoys widespread coverage in the press.
"Peak of Inflated Expectations" - Because of the buzz leading up to a product launch, over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations are generated, making it extremely difficult for a product to live up to its hype.
"Trough of Disillusionment" - Pre-release hype and unrealistic expectations inevitably lead to a failure to meet expectations. At this point, what was once a hot product or service quickly becomes unfashionable and fails to garner much press attention. How's that PhysX card working out?
"Slope of Enlightenment" - Ever hopeful, busineses may experiment with a technology that has lost favor in the press in order to understand the benefits and practical applications.
"Plateau of Productivity" - It's here where a technology or product morphs into something viable or enters the tech graveyard never to return. At this point, the benefits of the technology become widely demonstrated and accepted, second and third generations make it more stable and useful, and the product is ultimately judged on whether it's something broadly applicable or only beneficial to a niche market.
Will any of the above technologies survive the 5-step hype cycle? Post your thoughts below.
Image Credits: Dell, Flickr Red Lionness, Flickr rutty, Twitter