Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past six years, you’ve most likely heard about the ‘metaverse’. It has gone from literary text cogitation to technological reality. The term got even more attention when social media giant Facebook changed its company name to Meta Platforms Inc., in an attempt to untangle itself from its social media roots and bring the next digital frontier (i.e. the metaverse) to life.
But What Exactly is the Metaverse?
Well, according to Wikipedia, it is a network of three-dimensional virtual realms focused on social connection. The origin of the word “metaverse” can be traced back to Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, as a portmanteau of ‘meta’ and ‘universe.’
In science fiction, the metaverse is frequently defined as a theoretical version of the Word Wide Web – a universal virtual world that’s made possible with the use of augmented and virtual reality headsets. For technophiles, it personifies nirvana: a place where you can indulge in any digital environment and feel anything, even if you’re light years away from that physical place.
What Will the Metaverse Look Like? How Will It Work?
By far the most successful example of the internet being a universal virtual realm is Pokémon Go, the app that introduced augmented reality to the public. If you haven’t played the game, it’s likely that you’ve heard about its release in 2016.
It was when people gathered in groups and pointed their phones in front of them. They then saw a world teeming with virtual activity, with trainers to fight and Pokémon to capture. This marked the first viral use of the spatial web.
Nowadays, there are more examples of Pokemon Go such as games and other applications of spatial web with apps that combine virtual environments with users’ physical locations One of the more intriguing uses of this technology is Snapchat’s landmarks and geofilters features. These cutting-edge technologies are originating a virtual realm, although the metaverse differs because it’s set to be a ‘single, universal virtual world,’ meaning you can access content from Meta, Pokémon Go, Snapchat, and other platforms using any device you opt to use.
On the Brink of Technological Breakthroughs
It’s evident that there will be a first huge wave of innovation in the next 12 to 24 months, where ‘mixed reality’ hardware creates a quantum leap for immersive experiences. A second massive wave will likely come in the next three years, when fully immersive augmented reality glasses (AR glasses) will be commercially available. They are very important because they will serve as the gateway to the metaverse.
Many consumers are already using AR for shopping including fitting apparel virtually, seeing virtual furniture at home before purchasing it, and a lot more. The common denominator in these instances is that the AR experience is facilitated via smartphone, tablet, or other handheld device. This will change in the coming years with the advent of AR glasses.
The first attempt at this was the Google Glass in 2013. With a price tag of $1500 a pair, the public wasn’t ready for them and many wrote them off as a failed experiment. Nearly ten years later, the same technology is almost ripe and ready, though we are not sure if the world is. But nonetheless, AR glasses are coming in a big way and set to change how we interact with the world.
With these glasses, the distinction between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ will disappear. The walls of our homes, offices and commercial establishments will be plastered with virtual screens and digital art, our world will be loaded with digital content, and everything will look and feel normal.
Experts concur that there is a revolution in our midst, mediated by the consolidation of different technologies including the onset of 5G networks, the rise of edge computing, the need for more robust virtual collaboration due to COVID-19, as well as advances in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality. Factor in the rise of blockchain and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and it’s quite apparent that the metaverse is the most significant technology revolution since smartphones barged into the limelight 15 years ago.
Pushing the Boundaries of Innovation
When big players like Meta, Google, Microsoft, Intel, and Nvidia are able to amass the talent and capital needed to build a world without boundaries, the pioneers can create innovative experiences that will define the metaverse.
New metaverse experiences will reinvent work as we know it today. Meta’s Horizon Workrooms, Nvidia’s Omniverse Enterprise, and Microsoft’s Mesh are all meant to capacitate work in a virtual environment, allowing remote collaboration with the use of mixed reality applications. Even business magnate Bill Gates predicts that virtual meetings will be held in the metaverse and the workforce will increasingly rely on the use of avatars and VR headsets.
School and social life will also evolve. For instance, Roblox is laying the groundwork for bringing educational videogames to classrooms. Roblox is set to go beyond games and establish itself as a hub for metaverse experiences like concerts. For instance, the recent Marshmello Fortnite concert drew an estimated audience of 10 million.
For retail and commerce, a new era will dawn, with shops offering a menagerie of products, from e-pparel to digital pets and virtual vehicles. Nike, the world’s leading company in sports brand apparel, has already filed trademarks for virtual shoes, gear, and accessories, while luxury labels Balenciaga, Gucci and Louis Vuitton are starting to vend e-bags and e-clothes. Meta-malls are beginning to crop up, allowing shoppers to ransack VR stores and collect outfits for their avatar.
Some Challenges Along the Way…
But all these does not mean it will all be rainbows and butterflies. For instance, the US Federal Trade Commission is placing hurdles in Meta’s full-speed-ahead push into the metaverse by extending its antitrust investigation of previous VR deals. In Asia, Chinese authorities are clamoring that the metaverse must be scrutinized and closely monitored. And as previously mentioned, the price tag of VR headsets may serve as a hindrance to mass adoption. Many may also be averse to the thought of wearing a headset and meandering in a parallel reality.
However, despite all these, the tech industry is staunch in its belief in the metaverse, projecting that it will hit a staggering $800 billion by 2024 and 1 billion users by 2030.