S Curves are a business concept forecasting out the growth and development of new innovations as they progress through their technology life cycle. They generally are considered to have 4 phases starting with Research and Development, Ascent where the technology starts seeing some real usages, Maturity where the technology is well established with slow growth remaining, and the Decay phase where other new technologies surpass it. Wikipedia goes into much more detail here.
S curves matter because they help you identify when the optimal time to invest is and when it's time to move on. In other words, they are helpful in predicting growth and getting in front of it. The big take away from the idea of S curves is that technology does not grow linearly, you have a long period of little to no growth with very few adopters, and then in a short time frame (1-3 years) the technology blossoms with it appearing to most people as coming out of nowhere by magic to alter their daily lives.
The dominant S curve of the last decade has easily been mobile, but its been in the maturity phase for the last few years. Another S curve in the mature phase would be social media. Every decade or so there is a dominant S curve but there are simultaneously other, smaller S Curves, that likely aren't as impactful in reshaping society but still bring about permanent change.
Some of the new S curves I am watching closely and where I see them in their cycle:
- Artificial Intelligence - Despite all the hype this one is very early in the R & D phase with a ways to go. We haven’t seen anything here yet. This will likely really become the dominant S Curve of its time 10-20 years from now.
- Drones - Ascent phase.
- Autonomous Cars - R & D phase but will go into the ascent phase by 2020. This will likely be the next big one after mobile over the next decade in that it will reshape society.
- Blockchain - Ascent phase, even though with this one I don't think it will be as big as many people and the mainstream media will have you believe.
- Genomics/CRISPR - Very early R & D phase. We haven't even scratched the surface.
- Virtual Reality - The ascent phase but I don't think virtual reality will be nearly as big or society changing as other S curves on this list. I remain a sceptic on this one.
- Augmented Reality - Solidly R & D phase but I think we will start to see it hit the Ascent phase in the not to distant future.
- Alternative Energy sources/Battery technology - Early ascent phase but moving much more quickly than people think. Check out my post here for more details.
- Cloud Computing - End of the ascent phase/beginning of the maturity phase.
- Voice Interfaces - Beginning of the ascent phase.
- 5G Technologies/IoT - About to hit the ascent phase as they come out of R & D. The interesting thing here is I see 5G as being the catalyst that really kicks IoT (aka sensors being everywhere and in everything) into the ascent phase as well. These S curves are even more intertwined than others.
- Computer Vision - A subset of Artificial Intelligence above but one that is moving much faster along the S curve than other technologies that make up AI. Currently in the beginning of the ascent phase.