The State of the Metaverse: How Close Are We To This New Reality? (Part 2)
In the previous part of our look at the state of the Metaverse, we walked through where the concept came from, and how it developed over time into early iterations such as proto-Metaverses in video games, and also explored where we are currently with the technology. In this next part, we will go deeper into some of the hurdles that are preventing the Metaverse from taking off the way tech giants had originally hoped for.
Increasing the Capabilities and Accessibility of VR and AR Devices
A lot of contemporary discussions have revolved around the Metaverse itself as a digital space, but the hardware to access this virtual realm also plays a massive role in the potential widespread adoption of this technology. While many proto-Metaverses of old have been accessible via flat screen devices such as your PC, video game console, or even smartphone and tablet, the new concept of a Metaverse attracts users with its immersivity, and that means a change toward VR and AR devices.
The process to create such hardware has so far proven to be rather difficult, however. The likes of Microsoft, Google, and Snap have all previously worked on augmented reality glasses such as the HoloLens, Google Glass, and Spectacles, but either their design has been too cumbersome for daily use or a sleeker, more polished form factor meant weak computing power and a lack of any real substantive features. Apple has long been rumoured to be working on AR glasses themselves, but no official announcement has been made yet.
Source: Adrià García Sarceda on Unsplash
Similar things can be said about VR headsets and its industry. In terms of performance, there’s no question that virtual reality devices provide an overall better experience than its AR sibling, mostly because the increased size of the device – coupled with controllers – offers more immersion and computing power. However, when you compare the visuals with what an average PC or video game console can pull off these days, there’s still a sizable gap in terms of gameplay, graphics, and framerates. Even productivity apps on VR seem to lag behind your go-to software on a flat-screen device despite potentially having more innovative features, simply because we’ve become so accustomed to using things like Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word, or Zoom on our own computers without too much trouble. At this time, VR just doesn’t seem to be offering enough of a reason for us to move away from the familiar.
That said, companies pushing for the Metaverse such as Meta and Sony are working hard on developing better hardware solutions. Just earlier this year, Meta announced a new Quest Pro designed for developers, businesses, and early adopters. The headset sits at the top of the company’s range of products and offers exciting new features such as full 360-degree self-tracking, both eye and face-tracking, and even haptic controllers. In a similar vein, Sony also unveiled its PlayStation VR 2 set to work with the PS5, and industry-leading models like the Varjo XR3 can even deliver photorealistic visuals. However, at a price of US$6450, the question now is whether we’re going to see widespread adoption of such expensive gear any time soon, especially given the nascent stage of the Metaverse itself.
Recent Headlines Set Back the Metaverse
With the considerations mentioned above, it’s perhaps no surprise that the initial “hype” of the Metaverse has died down considerably. While there’s still massive interest from tech companies and brands alike to realise this concept of a virtual space that can integrate seamlessly with our own physical lives and enhance our daily experiences, development of the Metaverse is evidently shifting to a slower pace than originally anticipated, and some of the most recent headlines in the media reflect this sentiment.
In an open letter addressed to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg back in October, the company’s shareholder and Altimeter Capital’s chairman Brad Gerstner expressed concerns over the social media giant’s decision to allocate US$100 billion to develop its version of the Metaverse.
“People are confused by what the Metaverse even means. If the company invested US$1-2 billion per year into this project, then that confusion might not even be a problem,” the venture capitalist wrote. “Instead, the company has announced investments of US$10-15 billion per year into a Metaverse project that largely includes AR/VR/immersive 3D/Horizon World and that it may take ten years to yield results. An estimated US$100+ billion investment in an unknown future is super-sized and terrifying, even by Silicon Valley standards.”
Zuckerberg did not publicly address the letter or reply to it, but it’s likely he heeded the advice. Just weeks later in early November, the Meta CEO announced layoffs of roughly 13% of the company’s workforce, equating to a whopping 11,000 employees.
“At the start of Covid, the world rapidly moved online and the surge of e-commerce led to outsized revenue growth,” Zuckerberg explained. “Many people predicted this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic ended. I did too, so I made the decision to significantly increase our investments. Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected.”
The round of firings also come shortly after Meta reported a US$3.67 billion loss for its Reality Labs division over the third quarter of 2022. The Metaverse arm of the company has now marked US$9.44 billion in losses over this year alone, and is on track to break its own 2021 record of US$10 billion. To make matters worse, the company forecasts even more growth “significantly” in operating losses over 2023 year-on-year. With such negativity in recent developments, where does this leave us?
Looking Ahead Into the Metaverse
Source: Julien Tromeur on Unsplash
Despite these concerning financial results over the past two years and likely for the duration of 2023 as well, Zuckerberg remains optimistic about the future of the Metaverse and its importance, suggesting that the project remains one of the most important undertakings of Meta.
“It’s often going to take a few versions of each product before they become mainstream,” the billionaire reassured. “I think that our work here is going to be of historical importance and create the foundation for an entirely new way that we will interact with each other and blend technology into our lives as well as the foundation for the long term of our business.”
Indeed, as we covered earlier on the current state of the Metaverse, many other industry leaders and global brands have invested significant sums into building the infrastructure for this Web 3.0 future, and with millions of people already adopting AR/VR technology and proto-Metaverses into their lives, it’s unlikely for the Metaverse to fail to take off, at least in a more primitive form than what the Oasis envisions.
Unlike the universal model featured in Ready Player One, however, what we’re likely going to see are multiple Metaverses that would hopefully work and communicate with one another, potentially allowing you to transfer your digital assets and property between them. Companies like Meta, Microsoft, Apple, and Google are all competing for their own share in the industry, and if past innovations are anything to go by, it’s unlikely that we’ll see these firms coming together and working on one universal Metaverse. Of course, it’s not impossible for one single Metaverse to take over eventually, but that will take a much longer time than what Web 3.0 enthusiasts have initially expected.
When and if that moment comes, possibilities for the Metaverse can be endless. Provided that we manage to develop better VR hardware and it becomes more accessible, a large portion of our lives could very well take place within this digital realm. Over the pandemic, people have already gotten used to shopping online and working remotely, and the Metaverse will only further enhance your experiences in these fields. Through an avatar modelled after yourself, you may be able to walk around a virtual retail store and try on clothes to see how they look on you before making a purchase. You’ll be able to have meetings and collaborative sessions with colleagues in a digital workspace without having to leave the comfort of your own home. For entertainment, you’d be able to engage in sporting activities virtually or sit in a digital theatre together with your friends to enjoy a movie or video game.
All of these things that we’re used to seeing in big Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters will finally become a reality. When will this day come? Some experts predict it to come in the 2030s, but the truth is, no one really knows.
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