When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg introduced Meta at Facebook Connect 2021 in October this year, it sent ripples throughout the tech community. After all, Facebook Inc rebranding itself as Meta Platforms Inc was no small news. It signified that the company was ready to move out of the shadows of its parent company and acknowledge the diverse conglomerate that it was. More important was the vision that Meta had been set to achieve: the metaverse.
Zuckerberg described metaverse as a “successor to mobile internet.” He described it as a digital space that lets people do anything, even the things that they can’t do in the physical world. “…you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up,” he wrote in the founder’s letter this year. “You’ll move across these experiences on different devices — augmented reality glasses to stay present in the physical world, virtual reality to be fully immersed, and phones and computers to jump in from existing platforms,” he added.
To achieve this dystopian dream, he created Meta – a company that would move “beyond 2D screens toward immersive experiences like augmented and virtual reality to help build the next evolution in social technology.”
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Soon after, Meta started laying out the building blocks that would eventually help it realise the vision of its founder. At Facebook Connect 2021, Meta introduced Social virtual reality Horizon Home that would use the Oculus Quest VR set to give users a collective space where they can hang out, watch videos and even jump to games and apps together. It also announced support for Messenger audio calls on virtual reality (VR)-based platforms. Additionally, it announced Presence Platform that will help developers build more mixed-reality, interaction and voice experiences for metaverse.
Then there is Project Cambria, the next-generation high-end VR headset that will give users access to advanced technologies, in other words, metaverse. It also announced new AR Spark tools that will enable creators to ‘place digital objects in the physical world and let people interact with them realistically.’
More recently, Meta made Horizon Worlds – a social VR experience that was launched last year – available for free to everyone above 18 years of age in the US and Canada.
Of course, Zuckerberg and his company, Meta (formerly Facebook), are not the only ones talking about the metaverse right now.
But first things first, what is metaverse?
Metaverse is a hybrid space that uses technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 3D holographic avatars and mixed reality among others to give users a collective social experience in the digital world. As Zuckerberg said, it would be a ‘more immersive embodiment of the internet’ that will give users a ‘feeling of presence’ in the digital world. Users will be able to have new experiences “that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today,” he had said.
Interestingly, the term metaverse was coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his novel ‘Snow Crash’ almost 30 years ago. In his novel, Stephenson talked about life-like avatars that met in virtual reality.
What others are saying about the metaverse?
Zuckerberg has been talking about the metaverse with deep devotion. But he’s not alone.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates in his essay ‘Reasons for optimism after a difficult year’ on Gates Notes predicted that the metaverse will become a reality “within the next two or three years.” “I predict most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids…to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars,” he wrote. He also talked about Microsoft’s own efforts in this space.
The company introduced Microsoft Mesh, shortly after Facebook Connect 2021. It uses mixed reality applications to give users a shared experience from anywhere. It will enable users to connect to metaverse using devices such as HoloLens 2, VR headsets, smartphones, tablets, PCs and Mesh-enabled apps including Teams.
Similarly, Snapchat is giving metaverse its own spin by making its army of over 250,000 lens creators make AR more useful. The company recently released new tools that will allow developers to make mini apps inside their lens. It is also working on getting its next-generation AR-powered Spectacles into the hands of more developers. It’s idea, however, is slightly different from that of Facebook and Microsoft. It doesn’t want people to escape into a different world. Instead, it wants to bridge the gap between the real and the virtual worlds by making more useful AR apps.
Then there is the online gaming platform Roblox that has detailed a plan of using metaverse to cater to players’ needs.
What will the metaverse look like in 2022?
A lot has happened in the metaverse-verse this year. And this momentum is likely to continue next year as well.
Meta for one, will expand the availability of Quest for Business, which it will launch in a limited beta phase this year – to more beta participants in 2022. It plans a full roll out in 2023. Additionally, it will launch a new set of accessories – Active Pack for Quest 2 – that will include new grips for touch controllers next year.
Apple, on the other hand, is expected to launch high-end mixed-reality headsets next year. This headset will offer both AR and VR experiences in a single device and come with highly sensitive 3D sensing modules. Apple analyst Ming Chi-Kuo predicts that Apple’s MR headset will not only ‘detect the position change of the user or other people’s hand and object in front of the user’s eyes but also the dynamic detail change of the hand.’
There is also Gemini, a regulated cryptocurrency exchange founded by Winklevoss twins, that are looking at several proposals of implementing metaverse outside Facebook’s own metaverse. The company that recently raised $400 million in its latest round of equity funding is looking at a ‘decentralised metaverse’ that will give users more independence over their digital space.
As Zuckerberg put it, “the metaverse will not be created by one company. It will be built by creators and developers making new experiences and digital items that are interoperable.” In 2022, we will see more companies embracing the metaverse wave by developing experiences – both hardware and software – that will take people a step closer to a shared digital space.
That being said, the metaverse is far from being a reality – at least in the way it has been envisioned – right now. As Gates put it, “There’s still some work to do, but we’re approaching a threshold where the technology begins to truly replicate the experience of being together in the office.”