If the technology industry knows how to do anything, it’s hype up a product or platform. With the right PR campaign, mundane apps suddenly become world-altering; new smartphones are potential “iPhone killers”; and messaging platforms will change everything from how we work to how we eat.
Hype is great for startups’ valuations, but it comes with a significant downside: people jump onboard the new wonder technology, only to watch its relevance fade. The danger is even greater for companies and developers, who need to know whether a new technology is actually going to last before they commit their resources to it—or face annihilation.
With that in mind, here are five technologies that were overhyped last year. That doesn’t mean they won’t prove significant in the long term, or provide economic benefits to the tech pros who adopt them… but at least for the moment, the market hasn’t caught up with the early buzz.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Somewhere in the bowels of Facebook, which acquired pioneering VR-headset-maker Oculus in 2014, executives probably hoped that 2018 would be the year that VR finally went mainstream. Executives at Google and HTC, which offer their own takes on VR headsets, no doubt wished for the same thing, as did all the developers who built VR games and apps in hopes of dominating the early market.
But consumers haven’t rushed out to purchase new headsets, suggesting that VR will remain a gaming-centric niche for the foreseeable future. That’s a problem for developers who invested too heavily too early, such as CCP, which built flagship VR games such as “Eve: Valkyrie” before retreating from the market. “We expected VR to be two to three times as big as it was, period,” CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson told the media. “You can’t build a business on that.”
Earlier this year, research firm IDC reported that shipments of VR and augmented reality (AR) headsets plunged 30.5 percent between the first quarters of 2017 and 2018. Those tech pros who thought that VR would spread quickly from gamers to the enterprise and consumer contexts were mistaken; it’s increasingly clear that “mainstream” VR will take years of work (and billions of dollars) to become a reality, and hinges on a use-case that hasn’t been discovered yet.
However, augmented reality now seems like it might have a better shot than VR at going truly mainstream. For example, it’s pretty clear at this juncture that Apple intends on creating a lightweight, very-possibly-swank AR headset. Moreover, a rising number of smartphone-based AR games and apps suggest that developers will have a route forward for creating a robust AR ecosystem that’s actually profitable. But AR’s rise could very well come at VR’s expense.
Blockchain (and Cryptocurrency)
For many, 2018 was the year that dreams of making a fortune in cryptocurrency vaporized for good. The price of Bitcoin, cryptocurrency’s flagship specie, tumbled from nearly $20,000 BTC at the beginning of the year to just over $3,000, before spending the bulk of 2019 trying to rise again. That’s pretty awful, especially for those people who invested in the cryptocurrency bubble that began inflating near the end of 2017.
Even with cryptocurrency in freefall, there’s still hope among tech pros that the technology undergirding it, blockchain, will become a valuable part of the tech stack. In simplest terms, blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a chain of “blocks,” or records with a timestamp and link to a previous block. It is difficult (although technically not impossible) for a user to retroactively alter data within a particular block without someone noticing. This renders blockchains secure by design, making them ideal for everything from “smart” contracts to unalterable shipping manifests.
While some companies are already offering blockchain-based products (mostly in a logistics context), tech pros just aren’t interested, at least according to a survey from CodeMentor, to which 46 percent of respondents said they had no plans to learn the technology within the next three months, but were open to learning at some point, while 10 percent said they just weren’t interested.
In other words, despite all the hype and endless ink spilled on the blockchain and cryptocurrency phenomenon, blockchain has yet to become ubiquitous—no doubt to the consternation of all those who endlessly hyped the technology.
Although Apple seems to have a nice little product line going with the Apple Watch, and Fitbit managed to turn its corporate fortunes around with the well-reviewed Versa smartwatch, the wearables market as a whole has yet to live up to the hype.
Remember when pundits predicted that we would strap a whole range of smart devices to our skin and clothing? Yeah, aside from that fitness monitor on your wrist, that hasn’t come to pass—and even the smartwatch market is restricted to a few players. While those giants of the space forge ahead with iterative improvements to their smartwatches (hello, EKG for Apple Watch!), the rest of the wearables industry failed to take off this year.
But again, that could change if Apple rolls out that AR headset. There’s also the chance that Apple’s AirPods, with a few more features such as health monitoring, could help usher in an era in which the humble earbud is the center of the wearables universe. The good thing about the tech industry is there’s always the possibility that some cool new product could explode out of nowhere to take the world by storm.
When Google created Dart, its general-purpose programming language, it no doubt hoped that businesses would quickly adopt it for everything from mobile development to server applications. Seven years after its launch, though, Dart has gone largely stagnant, barely budging on popular-language rankings such as the TIOBE Index.
Now Google seems more focused on promoting languages such as Kotlin, which it recently named a first-class language for Android development. Dart has fallen by the wayside… although it could revive if Flutter, Google’s cross-platform SDK built on Dart, truly takes off in 2019.