Apple is Breaking the Rules of Technology Adoption

By Gary Kim February 04, 2013

Technology innovations are rarely predictable.

Analysts at Gartner use a concept known as hype cycles as a generic way of explaining how new technology tends to follow a predictable course, with wild an optimistic predictions about near-term success eventually being dashed.

There follows a period of disillusionment, and finally a time when the innovation actually is adopted in useful ways.

Apple might be the exception, as iPod, iPhone and iPad sales have kicked into mass adoption within a year or two, vastly accelerating and distorting the adoption curve.

With any of Apple’s products, except iPod – which followed the traditional trend – the initial hype is such that the majority of their sales happen during the first one or two years, and then immediately dry up.

The point, one might say, is that forecasting is becoming more difficult. In fact, the problem Apple poses for standard adoption models, whether “S” curves or “product lifecycle” curves, is that Apple products have simply not followed those rules as of late.

It might be said that some innovations are adopted very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that the “trough of disillusionment” predicted by the Gartner hype cycle virtually goes unnoticed.

You might say that has been the case with tablets. When, over the last several years that the iPad and tablets have been available, did you actually hear people talking about how disappointed they were with tablets?

The point is that, like all useful theories and generalizations, real life can be diverge from theory. Smartphones might be the other technology that seems not to have experienced a significant “trough of disillusionment.” 

Whether the hype cycle is predictive, or only descriptive, whether it can be used by new technology marketers in any practical way, is open to debate. Another way of making an analogy is to note the aphorism that most important and major new technologies have less impact on markets and behavior in the early going, and much more impact than foreseen over the long term.

One might say that is analogous to a hype cycle. Observers expect too much change in the early years, but often fail to understand the magnitude of change in later years.

For some of us, the main point is precisely that tendency to overestimate what can happen, early in the development of a new market, and also to underestimate impact later.

Edited by Braden Becker

Contributing Editor

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