Research Firms Are Good At Research, Not Technology Predictions

This story has been picked up semi-widely since last night. I’m sure this Steven Prentice they quote is a fine (Gartner) Fellow, but really:

The computer mouse is set to die out in the next five years and will be usurped by touch screens and facial recognition, analysts believe.

Seriously, does anyone who uses computers daily really believe this kind of prediction just because someone at Gartner says so? Dude, sanity check: 1. What functions do you use your mouse for? 2. How many of those functions can be done by pointing at your screen or smiling at the camera: a) at all; and b) with equivalent high precision and low arm fatigue? Of course the mouse, including direct equivalents like the touchpad/trackpad, will be replaced someday. But to notice that people like to turn and shake their Wii controllers and iPhones and then make the leap to conclude that this will replace mice outright in the short term seems pretty thin even for Gartner.

When you read a report from Gartner, Forrester, IDC and their brethren research firms, remember that you’re either getting real-world data (aka research) or a single analyst’s personal predictions (aka crystal-ball gazing). Research firms are good at what they’re good at, namely research:

  • They’re “decent” at compiling current industry market data. Grade: A.
  • They’re “pretty okay” when they limit themselves to simple short-term extrapolation of that data, such as two-year projections of cost changes of high-speed networking in Canada or cell phone penetration in India. Grade: A-.

But when they try bigger technology movement predictions like “X will replace Y in Z years” they average somewhere around “spotty,” and on their off days they dip down into “I think you forgot to sanity check that sound bite” territory. It’s a pity that some venture capitalists take the research analysts’ word as gospel. Reliability of technology shift predictions: D+.

6 thoughts on “Research Firms Are Good At Research, Not Technology Predictions

  1. On some level this reminds me of the recurring hype around Speech-to-Text software. Every couple of years a new NaturallySpeaking comes or is acquired.

  2. When I read the sentence I thought: a quote from 70’s in the early days of the mouse. The statement sounded so absurd to me, matching other infamous quotes from the past, that I did not realize for a moment that there were no touchscreens and facial recognition back then.

  3. If ever you find yourself about to take a research firm seriously, just remember that these are the same people who said that OS/2 and Unix would rule the world.

  4. I agree, just look at how long it’s taking Microsoft to phase out VC6 despite a zillion attempts and their top class researchers working on it for years! (grin!): D-

    Roll on VC10, your country needs you! :)

  5. Even if a functional “mouse-less” computer were on the market *today*, it would take more than 5 years for every existing mouse-based PC to be upgraded/thrown-out.

    Gartner = epic FAIL.

  6. Not mentioning how will your (our) touch-screens look like after a few hours of pointing with our greasy fingers (as _everyone_’s fingers are greasy to a degree, no exceptions).

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