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The is running a fascinating article about Gartner and their 10 year “evolutionary hype” cycle. Their cycle covers a number of stages and I’ll recap them briefly for you here, and then look at the Tablet PC.

Gartner defines their “evolutionary hype” cycle as beginning with what they call the technology “trigger”, going through a number of stages. They call this first stage a “peak of inflated expectations”. Gartner groups digital paper, web 2.0, and mashups in to this stage. Technologies in this stage, according to Gartner, won’t necessarily fail, but they are prone to unrealistic expectations. Web 2.0 fits that stage well. Parts of Web 2.0 will change how we work, but don’t expect the thick client to go away.

Gartner describes their next cycle as the “trough of disillusionment”. According to Gartner, a technology hits this stage after a product fails to meet expectations and then fails to regain the interest of the media after the initial hype. Gartner lumps Tablet PCs, corporate blogs, and wikis in to this stage. Some technologies do not survive this stage, others do. More on this in a bit.

The “Slope of Enlightenment” is where the pluses of a given technology reach past the “trough of disillusionment”, and potentially move on to the “plateu of productivity” of wide adoption and stability. Gartner puts VoIP at this stage.

As stated above, Gartner sees the Tablet PC as in the “trough of disillusionment”. This is because, according to Gartner, it has failed to become adopted in to the mainstream after failing to meet expectations, even though it is a successful solution for verticals looking to solve a particular problem.

Are Tablet PCs in the “trough of disillusionment”? It is a tough call, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say that Tablet PCs are in the trough of disillusionmnent. However, based on everything I read and know,  I believe that Tablet PCs are on the cusp of the “Slope of Enlightenment” and on its way to the “plateau of productivity”. Here is why.

  • Colleges are beginning to require students to purchase tablet pcs (Air Force Academy, Virginia Tech School of Engineering, etc), some are even strongly suggesting it. Colleges don’t do that with technology that is on its way out the door.
  •  Prices are dropping to the $1100 level for a souped-up convertible tablet pc. The difference in price between a tablet pc and non-tablet pc are becoming harder to find. Thus, when it comes time to buy a new laptop, it becomes easier to buy the one with more productivity options, like tablet notetaking.
  • Lenovo’s adoption of the Tablet PC cannot be overstated. That adoption, to me, has signaled the beginning of wide spread adoption. When Dell comes out with a Tablet PC, the doors will swing open for the enterprise. 
  • We’ll reach the “plateau of productivity” when students who are used to using tablet pcs start to graduate, and begin requesting them in the retail sector, and as a part of their job. The retail sector will listen and begin demanding more of them from the OEMs. In my opinion, once a person uses tablet pc technology for 6 months to a year, it is hard to revert back to traditional paperbased notetaking. It is at that point that we will begin to see tablet as a feature in almost of all of the laptops. I believe we are about 2 – 3 years away from that.
  • We are seeing versions two and three of tablet pc software that was released 4 years ago come out: TEO, GoBinder 2006, Math Journal 2.0, etc. TEO is highly successful because it builds on to an application that most everyone uses and ink-enables it.
  • As Tablet technology starts to pervade many different form factors, it will become harder to find a device not running tablet technology than one that does. UMPCs with Tablet technology are just the beginning.

In closing the article on their evolutionary hype cycle, Gartner says this:

“Despite the changes in specific technologies over the years, the hype cycle’s underlying message remains the same: Don’t invest in a technology just because it is being hyped, and don’t ignore a technology just because it is not living up to early expectations,” said Gartner.

The journey to the Slope of Enlightenment and the Plateu of Productivity is a long one. It has taken longer than we all hoped for or originally thought. However, it is a wise person who takes the long view on this technology and not the short one.


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