The Metaverse is currently the “taste” for hot tech topics. Facebook caused a sensation a few weeks ago when it renamed the company Meta. Microsoft recently joined the Metaverse party with his announcement about Mesh for Microsoft Teams that it will incorporate quasi-metaverse capability into its popular video collaboration tool.
But putting all the excitement aside, what practical impact will the Metaverse have on the average mainstream consumer? Yes, lifelike avatars in highly realistic virtual environments are cool, but how will this change your life? Or is it just a technical fad or gimmick?
Let me provide a few illustrative examples of how the Metaverse will affect your life, hopefully for the better. I hope some of these cases resonate with you.
A simple definition of the metaverse
The Metaverse brings together various elements of technology on a fundamental level, including video, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), where users can exist in a digital world. The Metaverse concept draws its strength from a vision in which users can play, work and stay “connected” with others, from work events, conferences, virtual vacations to entertainment events.
Like Microsoft’s abrupt move toward the Internet from an operating system integration standpoint in the mid-1990s, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg is putting the proverbial farm on the Metaverse with an investment of 10 billion US dollars To transform Facebook into a “metaverse company”.
The Metaverse is a world that thrives on a future where cryptocurrency and digital art, known as non-fungible tokens (NFT), are commonplace. While some people have struggled with the concept of NFTs, some digital works of art are receiving incredible reviews. Beginning of the year, Famous auction house Christie’s sold a digital artwork for $ 69.3 million, and that’s not change.
Meta’s enormous Metaverse bet
Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps the busiest CEO in Silicon Valley when it comes to metaverse enthusiasm. While it may be a decade before enough key functionality is required to enable an immersive Metaverse experience, that hasn’t stopped the company formerly known as Facebook from making the early leap in with its seven-year acquisition of Oculus to do the marketing of virtual headgear solutions.
As I described in my Forbes column a few weeks ago, some headwinds could hinder the activation of the metaverse. Blazing fast synchronous broadband speeds (over 1 Gbps) are required for a quality experience. While next-generation VR gear has become less cumbersome and doesn’t always have to be tied to a PC, some users may shy away from wearing headgear for extended periods of time. Most consumers comfortably carry a smartphone around the clock. However, the jury is still open as to whether the typical user would want to do this with VR goggles or glasses (not to mention the battery life challenges) for extended periods of time.
Microsoft believes that work-related video conferencing and gaming are the fastest route to the Metaverse
I think Microsoft’s approach to the metaverse could be a more pragmatic embrace of the potential of the metaverse.
In early November, Microsoft unveiled its Mesh for Microsoft Team solution, which will bring virtual avatars (if a little cartoonish) and holograms to its popular corporate video conferencing platform over the next year. Microsoft’s approach is more of a mixed reality approach, as it brings the real world together with elements of AR and VR.
Microsoft’s capabilities also encompass applications outside of the traditional corporate realm. Earlier this year the US Army announced that it would use Microsoft’s HoloLens technology in headgear for soldiers to support situational awareness and training exercises on the battlefield.
Microsoft doesn’t ignore the entertainment space for its AR and VR solutions. In addition to Microsoft, HP and HTC sell several headsets and accessories Designed to take advantage of the Xbox VR entertainment potential. Microsoft’s Minecraft, a virtual universe loved by children, allows users to create their own digital characters and construct whatever they want.
Another exciting company on the Metaverse radar screen is Dreamium Labsthat I wrote about earlier this year. The company recently launched a smartphone app for users that turns a simple selfie taken on a smartphone into a terrifyingly realistic avatar. These Avatars are customizable with different hairstyles and outfits. The avatars can then emulate the most popular TikTok trending dances and create exportable videos with friends, family and celebrities.
Metaverse-inspired retail could be the mainstream pull
Aside from the gaming and video conferencing usage models, perhaps the most significant attraction of the metaverse for the average consumer is in shopping and retail.
In the past few years there has been tremendous advancement in key augmented / 3D / AR / VR elements of the metaverse, enabling shopping tools that were previously the stuff Back to the future part 2. Several well-known retailers have developed apps that enable their customers to see their clothes (or products) on themselves or in their home. Buying furniture takes on a whole new dimension with a virtual in-home layout experience that does not require a trip to the branch.
The e-commerce space has of course received a heavy dose of adrenaline during the pandemic. New VR and AR technologies will be an even more important tool for retailers to leverage the e-commerce space for a highly robust “omnichannel” shopping experience that brings together the physical and digital world of consumers.
A couple of final thoughts
It is clearly true that pretty much every major tech player wants to “own” their unique piece of the metaverse, not just Microsoft and Facebook. Regardless of who the actual winners are for me, the Metaverse has profound benefits for everyone. It can enable more imaginative problem solving in various industries such as healthcare, education, life sciences, architecture, e-commerce, and construction.
Unfortunately, the entertainment implications of the metaverse tend to be bright, shiny objects that distract mainstream audiences from understanding its real productivity and efficiency edge potential. Landing a spacecraft on Mars with Oculus glasses can be cool. Still, it pales in comparison to the social benefits of having a surgeon perform virtual heart surgeries from thousands of kilometers away.
Like all new technologies, the metaverse will inevitably have some ugly drawbacks: general addiction, loss of time, and inability to see the real and virtual worlds, to name a few. It takes a broader technology discussion to openly discuss these issues as they inevitably become more acute as metaverse-related technology becomes more robust.
But you could associate these risks with any new technology, be it the rise of the internet, smartphones or gaming. The bottom line is that the metaverse will have great significance for the vast majority of people in the next few years, even if the usage models are not entirely obvious to the average person. We hope the benefits it creates will more than make up for the disruption it causes.
Mark Vena is President and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research, based in Silicon Valley. A technology industry veteran for over 25 years, Mark covers a wide range of consumer technology topics including PCs, smartphones, smart home, connected health, security, PC and console gaming, and streaming entertainment solutions. Mark has held senior marketing and corporate management positions at Compaq, Dell, Alienware, Synaptics, Sling Media, and Neato Robotics. Mark has appeared on CNBC, NBC News, ABC News, Business Today, The Discovery Channel, and other media outlets. Mark’s analysis and comments have appeared on Forbes.com and other popular business news and research sites. His comments on consumer tech have appeared repeatedly in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, TechNewsWorld, and other news publications.
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