Once a sci-fi pipe dream, immersive digital worlds are becoming a reality, not just for the near future, but today. Digital worlds provide an array of opportunities, enabling people to play, travel, work, and shop together virtually.
The market cap of the metaverse is projected to reach $800 billion by 2024. It is no surprise then that big tech has jumped headfirst into the race to develop the metaverse and secure a share of the market with vast potential.
Let’s dive a little deeper into each of the metaverse projects being developed by the tech behemoths, and discuss their individual strategies for creating the metaverse and shaping its future.
The metaverse platform being developed by Microsoft is called “Microsoft Mesh“, and focuses on the provision of a new age work environment set within the metaverse.
Microsoft is integrating Mesh with ‘Microsoft Teams’ as a first step towards creating the metaverse. The integration will open doors to immersive experiences in the workplace. allowing people from different physical locations to chat, send messages, join hybrid and virtual meetings, and collaborate on shared documents.
According to Microsoft, an immersive space within a team’s channel can strengthen workplace collaboration. For example, a product design team can choose to create an immersive space for its daily standup meetings, with whiteboards and product prototypes accessibly displayed on a table.
In terms of the hardware for the metaverse, Microsoft is developing its own mixed reality headset, ‘HoloLens 2‘. The product originated as a headset for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console. However, the company now seems intent on locking in its share of the market by tying the metaverse to its hardware. Having said that, Mesh will not be restricted to HoloLens users, and will be accessible through the use of any VR headset, mobile phone, tablet, or PC, using the Mesh-enabled app.
Microsoft elected to follow the strategy of building the metaverse as an extension of its current application ecosystem. The company has a strong portfolio of applications that could become the building blocks of the metaverse’s future.
It’s also worth mentioning a couple of examples of the company’s applications and technology, which will be particularly important for the future development of the metaverse. The first of these is Dynamics 365 ‘Connected Spaces’. This application delivers real-time actionable recommendations by utilizing video camera data and AI to assist retail store owners to analyze and improve the shopping experience.
The second is ‘Azure Digital Twins’, which is an Internet of Things (IoT) platform that enables companies to model digital copies of real-world environments and business processes in order to gain insights, leading to optimization of operations and costs.
The technology that underlies both of these applications enables the creation of immersive experiences and, once integrated into the metaverse, could give Microsoft an edge.
Interestingly, that is not the only thing Microsoft has going for it in terms of the metaverse’s creation. Indeed, the tech giant staked its place in the virtual economy early on. While games could be considered an entry point to the metaverse and its immersive experience, Microsoft’s investment in the gaming industry can only give the company a competitive advantage in the development of the metaverse.
Through the acquisition of popular game studios, Microsoft has gained access to thriving gamer communities and prominent franchises. Back in 2014, the company bought Minecraft for $2.5 billion, and in 2020, Microsoft bought gaming company ZeniMax Media for $7.5 billion.
On the other hand, it is hard to tell exactly how much Microsoft has invested in the creation of the metaverse. One of the biggest investment into the metaverse could perhaps be considered to be the historical acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Microsoft acquired the game studio for $68.7 billion, pending approval. The deal gives Microsoft access to 390 million monthly users, and all of its existing games, including such legendary titles as Call Of Duty and World of Warcraft.
How far has Microsoft gone towards creating the metaverse? The company announced that it had begun working on the metaverse back in 2021. At the time of writing, Microsoft Mesh is available in a limited free preview in which companies can try out the Mesh app with the HoloLens 2.
Meta’s metaverse prototype entry is called “Horizon Worlds”—a virtual reality, online video game with an integrated game creation system. Metaverse users can contribute by creating their own worlds on the platform, and Meta also has plan to introduce ‘Horizon Workrooms’, which will integrate VR spaces for collaborative work and virtual meetings for professionals and companies.
As with all things, the platform does have some drawbacks. It is not immune to harmful content, and that has been an issue for Horizon Worlds from the beginning. Additionally, the platform has been mocked for its clumsy aesthetics and consistently poorly designed controls. Another considerable issue facing Horizon Worlds is that of centralization. Though Meta encourages co-creation on the platform, it still relies entirely on the power [provided by its in-built development tools.
One particular positive is that Meta has its own native metaverse hardware: the Oculus. Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, and the Oculus Quest 2 headset was the best-selling VR headset of 2021, shipping more than 8.7 million units. With access to Horizon Worlds being provided by the Oculus Quest headset, Meta gains a significant advantage in the race for the metaverse.
Another significant advantage for Meta is its immense use base across its various social media platforms. Meta has taken a “bottom-up” strategy in its approach to developing metaverse, and ambitiously hopes to bring all of its existing customers into a metaverse that can grow to become a place for both work and play.
The focus shift from social media platforms to the metaverse is clear from the company’s decision to rebrand from Facebook to Meta. The name change came after the company declared its intention to employ 10,000 new staff in the EU with the sole purpose of building the metaverse.
Meta’s metaverse concept is more closely aligned with the sci-fi future people have spen significant portions of their lives immersed in, dreaming of colorful virtual realities.
So far, Meta has invested $10.2 billion in its Reality Labs business. However, the company lost $2.81 billion on its $452 million in revenue in Q2.
So all around, how is Meta doing with its metaverse development? Facebook announced the opening of Horizon Worlds in December 2021. In February 2022, the company stated that Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues had a total monthly userbase of 300,000 people; that users had built 10,000 worlds within Horizon Worlds; and that its private Facebook group for creators had over 20,000 members. That shows rapid growth, but it is still a far cry from competitors such as Roblox.
While other big tech companies introduced their metaverse concepts, Apple stayed quiet for a time. There are signs, however, that Apple is also working on something for its own virtual reality world. And has been for decades.
Apple’s strategy has always been to keep its products low profile until they reach the final development stage—that way the company can be full of surprises for the metaverse market.
An important sign of the company’s under-the-radar work towards developing a metaverse has been the registration of patents involving AR/VR technologies, starting in 2008. Another lies in key acquisitions, such as when Apple acquired PrimeSense, which provides 3D sensing technology. Apple has also attained somewhat of a collection of companies working on face tracking, like PolarRose. In 2017, the company bought augmented reality startup Vrvana, along with Akonia Holographics, a company that designs lenses for AR glasses.
One of Apple’s major advantages comes in the form of its smartphone market share. Globally, 20% of people (nearly 900 million) have an iPhone. Among the young adults, this figure is even higher, with 70% of the young adult market share in the U.S.
With each new iPhones comes new hardware, making them more powerful, and providing new sensors that enable a better augmented reality experience. This is a clear indicator of the company’s focus on augmented reality, and laying the foundations for a solid potential user base within the future metaverse.
Google was dealt a failure with its gambit for Google smart glasses back in 2014, and marked the company’s first step into more immersive internet experiences. It is likely that the glasses were introduced ahead of their time, as the price was too high, or the company simply failed to determine their applicable utility.
Despite that, the tech behemoth is back in the competition for digital worlds, and Google’s AR headsets, internally codenamed “Project Iris”, are expected to be released in 2024.
The time around, the product should be more immersive than those AR glasses currently on the market. Furthermore, Google has invested $39.8 million into a private equity fund for metaverse projects.
The technology combines computer visuals with a video feed of the real life environment using outward-facing cameras. According to the Verge, Google has been keeping the project under wraps, requiring “special keycard access” and “non-disclosure agreements” for those looking to find out more.
One of Google’s most significant advantages is its vast user base. Google has secured 70% of the search market share, so it seems only natural for them to take the next step in creating a more immersive browsing experience.
Another significant advantage is the existence of ‘Google Maps’. Decades of work is paying off, as ‘Street View’ imagery has been gathered in more than 100 countries and territories, ranging from locales such as Grand Canyon National Park to the Great Barrier Reef. Realistically, Google could make a serious push in building the metaverse based solely on Maps.
Google Maps Experiences vice-president Miriam Daniel stated in a post that the company is introducing an “immersive view” that would combine Street View images with AI in order to create a detailed digital model of the world.
“You’ll be able to experience what a neighborhood, landmark, restaurant, or popular venue is like – and even feel like you’re right there before you ever set foot inside,” Daniel said.