News – of late – have abounded with stories of how Virtual Reality technology has opened up the possibility of metaverses. The metaverse is said to be the next phase of the internet. So strong is the belief in metaverses eventually being the next internet, that tech giants Meta (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft have begun to make plans to develop their digital worlds.
While Meta plans on creating a metaverse that is, essentially, an extended – and immersive – version of a social network, Microsoft metaverse plans are more targeted at the corporate world.
How did these Metaverse projects start?
Announced a week apart, the two projects will see the companies repositioning their offerings, in preparation for a more engaging version of the internet known today. Microsoft, through its Hololens, Augmented Reality glasses, and Meta, through its Oculus line of Head Mounted Display (HMD) gear, are already capable of enabling users to interact with these proposed metaverses.
The two companies, both, have different approaches planned for the metaverse offerings. Meta, which is the parent company of online social brands, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and VR brand Oculus, aims to deliver a metaverse that users can experience through VR goggles. The firm is currently in the process of developing a device that will facilitate optimized interaction with said metaverse, Project Cambria.
Microsoft’s ambitions – on the other hand – are focused purely on enabling a more dispersed workforce to build team cohesion by interacting in virtual workspaces. They aim to allow for a multitude of devices to access their metaverse, however.
Mesh For Teams
Microsoft plans to expand on their Team collaborative tool, by incorporating a metaverse element through Mesh, a technology developed and sold by Extended Reality (XR) firm, Accenture. Combining Microsoft’s 12-year experience in the field – the Hololens being their first project – with the XR expertise of Accenture, the software giant (Microsoft) aims to recreate the collaborative spirit of working in an office, virtually, for remote workers to develop stronger professional relationships.
The move to develop a professional metaverse that allows for companies to set up virtual offices and meeting spaces was inspired by the firm’s – Microsoft’s – research team’s findings. Productivity experts at Microsoft found that, although remote workers proved to be quite productive, the people who now found themselves working from home – due to Covid-19 social distancing regulations – missed office interactions. They also found it harder to develop professional relationships from the other side of the screen.
The firm’s productivity team also found that remote workers had more difficulty in feeling engaged, and part of a team when some members, in a group video call, had their cameras turned off. Being at home was sighted as the main reason some team members would have their cameras turned off; not being in the appropriate clothing, wanting privacy while multitasking, kids, and dogs running around in the background, etc.
Working and collaborating with the rest of one’s team through a virtual double, known as an avatar, solves both issues for remote employees, asserts Alex Kipman, technical fellow at Microsoft. Working in a metaverse-based environment allows team members to collaborate and engage as though in a real office, while still being allowed the privacy of home.
To make the metaverse a reality, Microsoft has harnessed Accenture’s expertise to add a metaverse element to their collaborative tools. They aim to allow their users to access this metaverse via any available device, not just VR headsets.
“Welcome to Mesh for Teams,” said Kipman. “As a company whose focus is on productivity, on knowledge workers, it’s something that customers are asking us for, and it’s coupled with the vision of mixed reality that we’ve been working on for 12 years. It’s all coming together.”
Metaverse and Meta
Repositioning its core business model from social media powerhouse, to XR company, Facebook, which owns social media brands, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, along with VR brand Oculus, have rebranded to Meta. The tech firm’s transformation so the Oculus brand being absorbed into the Meta brand – emphasizing the company’s intentions.
Meta’s plans are slightly different from Microsoft’s however. The – newly repositioned – XR firm aims to have its digital world extend beyond the corporate world and, in essence, become a second world. Being a more social-oriented metaverse, the horizon will allow for humans to live, work, and play within the digital environment.
Unlike Microsoft, which will allow for the accessing of their virtual workspaces from any given device, Meta’s Horizon metaverse will only be accessible via VR headsets. The firm already has a specialized XR device in the works, codenamed Project Cambria, the VR and MR (Mixed Reality) accommodating device is set to optimize interaction with said metaverse.
Both firms may take quite some time to develop these worlds into spaces that everyone can access, but the potential for them to enable humanity to connect and interact on a different level is huge. These digital worlds – in addition to relationships – could open up new, virtual-based economies and opportunities for their users.
The technology is still in its nascent state however and may take a while to develop. With things looking as though the internet will eventually give way to the met metaverse, two firms appear to be positioning themselves ahead of the pack.