The metaverse is an online digital social space where individuals and businesses can work, socialise, play, and collaborate across a multitude of devices. Users can enter virtual environments made up of interconnected themed worlds, which often include apps and games.
Although a digital avatar and a smartphone are all that is needed to navigate metaverse environments, Virtual Reality (VR) headsets or smart glasses allow a richer, more interactive experience. Beyond gaming and social, this emerging concept that the metaverse promises has far-reaching implications for businesses in every sector.
What Is The Metaverse?
Metaverse (“meta,” meaning beyond) is a term used to describe the futuristic iteration of the internet and online world comprised of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.
Now, the metaverse is evolving into a reality, a novel place to interact with people and bots to socialise, shop, play games, and even conduct official business. No longer a concept for the future, the metaverse has materialised now as a mishmash of software, hardware, and other technologies such as AI.
Most of us have seen standalone components of a metaverse, such as a game or computer-based training session. A recent example is Pokémon Go, an Augmented Reality (AR) game that inserts images of Pokémon creatures through your cell phone camera. Another example is Facebook’s Horizon Workroom, a mixed reality platform designed for work.
The metaverse is still in its infancy and can be thought of as a collection of alternate digital realities where you can work, socialise, and play. It’s created by combining a virtually enhanced physical reality with a physically persistent virtual space.
This virtual space is the sum of virtual worlds, the internet, and augmented reality. Other names for the metaverse are the Magicverse, mirror world, AR Cloud, and the Spatial Internet. At this time, there is no single connective framework to bring all these components together, but this will come.
How Users Will Access the Metaverse
The metaverse is designed to be accessed easily by all so that a smartphone user with a 3D Avatar will enjoy the most basic interaction. However, the full metaverse experience will be available to individuals with electronic devices such as AR glasses and VR headsets.
The first device was the Oculus Quest 2 developed by Meta. For a cost of about $300, the user will be immersed in a 3D reality.
To move through the world, they used hand controllers. For full movement, a treadmill system is required. Meta isn’t the only company currently marketing VR headsets. Sony and HTC have headsets, and Apple aims to release one in 2022.
Meta and Apple are also developing AR glasses, and Microsoft already has one with the Hololens. AR involves superimposing a digital image over the user’s actual view, and this technology is more straightforward than full VR for the general user to adopt. AR has a ubiquitous aspect that makes it possible for you to follow an event occurring within the metaverse out of the corner of your eye. At the same time, you participate in a discussion happening in the physical world.
VR Hardware vs 3D Avatar
In broad terms, VR refers to immersing yourself in a 3D world, which requires sophisticated hardware and software. Typically, VR is experienced through a headset that blocks the outside world and takes you to a virtual one.
In the past, these headsets were heavy and clunky, interfering with what is supposed to be a completely immersive experience. Today, however, headsets are cheaper, smaller, lightweight, and easier to wear. The software has advanced as well, creating AR (Augmented Reality) spaces using devices like smartphones and Google Glass.
When you put on a VR headset, you will first see a monochromatic view of the real world. From here, you use AR to map out a play space and walk around. This creates a physical boundary. At this point, you are transported into a virtual 3D environment. You will, however, still hear the ambient noises of the real world around you.
Companies are even researching entirely new techniques and designs to make the next generation of VR and AR hardware so light and powerful that it transforms one’s daily life. In 2020, Facebook Reality Labs published a paper detailing how holographic optics make ultra-lightweight VR headsets possible. Facebook’s proposed technology controls the light within a thin lens, which solves the problem of external light interfering with the simulated images.
Removing this obstacle supports the integration of VR and AR technologies for all users. Comfortable, wearable AR devices would allow users to immerse seamlessly into augmented reality and essentially move through both the virtual and real worlds simultaneously. For example, Glass is Google’s brand of smart glasses, which is an optical, head-mounted display shaped like eyeglasses. It displays information in a hands-free format with a visual layout similar to a smartphone. The user communicates with the internet using voice commands.
Metaverse Is More Than Gaming
Currently, the metaverse is based in an artificial reality, or a virtual world populated by 3D avatars that represent actual people. Avatars can also exist as Artificial Intelligence (AI) virtual beings. Naturally, this lends itself to gaming and recreation. However, metaverse technologies have implications for the business world as well.
Facebook has embraced the metaverse as its future, and other technology giants (including Microsoft) are taking notice. Facebook’s VR meeting app is Workplace, enabling participants to use virtual avatars to conduct virtual meetings.
The resulting impact will reimagine the way enterprises conduct meetings, customer support, sales calls, and numerous other work processes. This, of course, has implications for how networks are configured and secured across an ever-growing remote virtual workforce.
While there are dozens of other ideas in the works that employ metaverse components, the core of each is social interaction. For example, VRChat focuses on enabling people to hang out and chat online. The secondary aim is to explore environments and meet new people.
Retail and manufacturing will thrive in the metaverse. An app that enables car manufacturers to place cars in an enhanced reality can allow potential buyers to “test drive” them. The same concept applies to customers looking to purchase clothing online. They can try the digital clothes on while online before they order.
Why Businesses Need to Pay Attention
Although many of the benefits associated with the metaverse seem to be off in the distant future, Facebook and other companies are developing apps right now. All businesses should pay attention to these emerging technologies and explore the benefits they have beyond entertainment.
There are some instances where the metaverse is already supporting business. For example, VR gaming, marketplaces, digital art installations, and virtual collaboration hubs have been implemented for customers and employees.
Businesses should study these models to familiarise themselves with the metaverse as well as blockchain and other digital currencies. They should pay particular attention to how these technologies can be combined to complete transactions in an immersive online world.
Marketing and communications are paying attention to the metaverse because it’s the new frontier for online interaction. While there isn’t a single metaverse, companies are positioning themselves to create one.
The pandemic has done much to push the platform as well. Social gatherings followed suit as the world was forced to conduct business online via Zoom and other video conferences platforms. People attended graduations, weddings, and other social events online, thus creating a welcome space for virtual interaction.
This connects directly to marketing, where more and more people are shopping online and having merchandise delivered to their doorsteps. Therefore, companies will be transitioning their marketing strategies to include this shared virtual space. Bots, virtual assistants, and AR apps will assist consumers in choosing their products. In many cases, they will even be able to try the product virtually before purchasing the real thing.
Advertising inside the metaverse environment will also make a huge impact, allowing businesses to place themselves in clear view of hundreds of millions of potential customers through product placement or interactive ads.
Will Edge Computing Play A Critical Role?
Much of the interaction and data needed to drive virtual and augmented reality exists in the cloud. Users access the metaverse from all endpoints. For the user to have a seamless experience, the network needs to operate with low latency. As new metaverse technologies emerge, the agility of businesses data management is critical. Edge computing may become a necessary addition to the cloud metaverse.
Securus Communications have already been rolling out a high-bandwidth low latency core network technology, plus we have several core capacity enhancement already scheduled for 2022 that will work in synergy with an Edge computing model.
Edge computing enables quicker response times and reduces latency for mission-critical tasks and workloads. Because edge computing is hybrid cloud technology, it allows businesses to tailor cloud strategy to fit their needs. Managing networks includes understanding the requirements regarding availability and scalability along with security and compliance.
Edge computing may become key to developing an appropriate framework for metaverse applications. While there’s no single solution, focusing on a configuration that handles business data is a sure bet to maximising the benefits of the rapidly expanding metaverse.
Main Business Uses for the Metaverse
To break things down a little further, here are some specific ways the metaverse can benefit businesses.
VR meetings enable people to come together and work in the same virtual room, despite their physical distance from one another. The goal is to improve the team’s ability to communicate, collaborate, and connect remotely through VR. Immersive VR meetings allow colleagues to conduct business as well as socialise or have productive conversations.
The features used include hand tracking, mixed-reality desk and keyboard tracking, remote desktop streaming, spatial audio, video conferencing integration, and 3D avatars.
VRChat is a free multiplayer experience compatible with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive virtual reality headsets. You can play even without the special headgear by logging on to the Steam or the VRChat website.
VRChat is a transformative, surreal virtual meeting space that lets people socialise and attend events in virtual environments. VRChat has become so popular that the growth and resulting functionality is unprecedented. Therefore, the potential in the business world is just now unfolding.
Retail and Shopping
As mentioned earlier, the metaverse creates new spaces for customers to engage with services and products. The creation of the metaverse allows the retail industry to break from the concept of physical stores and into digital shopping experiences.
Collaborations between high-end brands and online gaming platforms are already booming in the interactive world. Gucci recently sold a virtual handbag within the Roblox platform. This paves the way for more promotional brand activities in the metaverse.
In terms of storytelling, metaverses offer deep immersion, interactivity, and game-based narratives that build affinity. Viewers are no longer passive; they become participants in the narrative, which leads to engagement and emotional investment.
Immersive storytelling creates more than good stories. They make a fascinating fictional world in which people want to spend time. The world-building aspect of metaverses creates experiential marketing. For example, Netflix partnered with the Brooklyn Museum to curate a virtual, immersive experience that enabled participants to walk virtually through the museum, where they could view costumes from Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown.
Finally, the existence of a metaverse creates a space for fans to create their own narratives, taking fan edits and fan fiction to the next step in their evolution.
Current Metaverse Big Players
Currently, the two VR powerhouses driving the evolution of the metaverse are Facebook and Oculus, both owned by Facebook’s parent company, Meta. Meta’s version of the metaverse is VR-centric, focusing on object interaction, avatars, and virtual environments.
In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg purchased the virtual reality start-up Oculus. From there, Facebook launched two Oculus Rift VR headsets. While VR headsets were expensive and required heavy computer resources, Oculus released the affordable Oculus Quest system, which was a wireless standalone VR headset. With it, anyone could enter a room-scale VR experience.
Meta has plans to transform the device into a component of a larger metaverse ecosystem, in which users will use their headsets for more than just online gaming. To fully engage in Facebook’s metaverse, you will need an Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset launched in 2020.
Meta’s goal is to shift beyond two-dimensional social media platforms and move to an interactive digital environment that it calls the metaverse. Meta aims to replicate an authentic social presence with online interactions. The critical hardware needed to accomplish this is VR headsets, smart glasses, and other necessary components to create lifelike video calls.
Key Metaverse Terms
Below are some quick definitions of some of the most common terms associated with metaverses.
Augmented reality is a technology that superimposes computer-generated images onto the user’s view, resulting in a composite view.
Google Glass is a wearable, voice- and motion-controlled device. It looks like eyeglasses and displays information in the wearer’s field of vision.
An avatar is an icon that represents a person in an online event like a video game or internet forum.
The metaverse is a future iteration of the internet that supports persistent online 3-D virtual environments and VR and AR headsets.
The multiverse is our current version, from a technological standpoint, of the virtual world. It combines current gaming technologies to accomplish something close to the metaverse of the future.
Virtual Reality (VR)
VR is a computer-generated simulation of a 3D image or environment. Users can interact in a seemingly real or physical way using special equipment like a VR headset.
Virtual Reality (VR) Headset
A VR headset is a head-mounted device that delivers virtual reality for the wearer. VR headsets are primarily used with video games, though the uses are expanding as new technologies emerge.
The metaverse has substantial monetary benefits for enterprise businesses across industries; it promises to deliver a rich new collaboration model as well.
As we have learned through our experience working through the COVID-19 pandemic, video conferencing is convenient but somewhat limiting. The metaverse promises to enrich the video conferencing experience by simulating the same effect as face-to-face meetings.
In short, the metaverse is no longer a futuristic vision; it is here, albeit in its infancy, and rapidly evolving. Many businesses did not adapt when the internet evolved during the early 1990s; don’t get left behind for the second coming.
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