The biggest tech giants are battling it out to be the first one to establish themselves as the leader in the metaverse. Find out the different approach that Meta and Microsoft are taking.
Innovative disruptions are occurring at a fast pace, and it is anticipated that the line between real life and virtual reality (VR) will become further muddled in the not-too-distant future. We are going through a significant technological transformation, with known concepts such as augmented reality (AR), VR, artificial intelligence (AI) and the next iteration of the internet — web 3.0
, taking over our lives in ways that have never been seen before.
While a number of crypto-native firms have been working on various components of the metaverse
over the past few years, tech giants like Meta, previously known as Facebook
, and Microsoft have also spent a significant amount of time working on this new future. Now it’s simply a competition to see who will realize the vision of the Metaverse and succeed with it first.
What Is the Metaverse?
The term meta means, among other things, "beyond". So the metaverse
can be broadly defined as the universe beyond all that is visible and known to exist.
The metaverse will establish a digital environment where individuals can do whatever they want to do in the real world, while removing boundaries. Activities such as owning digital land, attending workplace meetings, partying in concerts, hanging out with friends, and even planning travelling trips will be possible. You can quickly transfer to a virtual environment that replicates the real-world, such as your house, office, retail mall, entertainment park and more. In some version of the metaverse, that can be done by wearing a VR headset.
The metaverse is part of the broader web 3.0
— the next generation of internet where information will be processed in a smart, human-like way and users will be more engaged that ever before. The metaverse will provide a 3D environment where you can walk about as your virtual self and interact with other virtual avatars; a virtual economy also facilitates the trading of virtual goods, building communities, doing work and playing games, among other things.
Who Owns the Metaverse?
The metaverse can be hosted on a decentralised network, or centralized servers. In popular blockchain-based metaverses like The Sandbox and Decentraland, users can purchase digital real estate on the metaverse, which effectively means they own that part of the metaverse. However, for metaverses that Meta and Microsoft are building out, they are owned by these corporations. For instance, the VR metaverse — Horizon Worlds
that Meta is launching. This makes it a centralized entity, much like the Facebook suite of apps we use today.
If you want to be linked to the technology then you need to invest in metaverse's architecture, development and services. But as it stands, most metaverses are still in the early stages. The Sandbox, a popular metaverse with digital land and play-to-earn games, recently launched its alpha phase
. Meta launched its metaverse app, Horizon Worlds
, to users in United States and Canada.
How Are Meta and Microsoft Approaching Metaverse?
According to both Microsoft and Meta, users will be able to create digital replicas of themselves (also known as avatars) that can wander freely throughout virtual worlds. Workers can attend meetings, have casual conversations with coworkers, or visit "digital twins" of real-world businesses and factories.
Meta is in the lead as far as VR devices are concerned. Technology from the Oculus, which Meta acquired for $2 billion in 2014, allowed them to launch their Horizon Worlds ahead of competition. Horizon promotes itself as a collaborative VR world where creators can build their own vision and see it come to life in the virtual world. On Aug. 27, 2020, Horizon Worlds launched a beta, invite-only version
of the app to select users. More recently, on Dec. 9, 2021, they launched Horizon Worlds to all users in the U.S. and Canada
who are above 18. There are thousands of worlds built by creators to explore — from a retro arcade, a town with magic brooms, to a riverboat ride. They also announced a $10 million creator fund
to boost the development of more VR worlds and social spaces. Besides this fund, Meta said they would spend $10 billion in 2022
to develop tools for building the metaverse.
However, Microsoft's metaverse concept is headed for a slightly different direction. Instead of VR, they are using a mixed-reality approach. With its HoloLens 2 and "holoportation," users can project a life-like hologram of themselves or an avatar to interact as if they are physically there. While this sounds very sci-fi, they are also implementing the Mesh app on normal VR headsets and hardware that are currently more utilized, such as tablets, mobile phones or PCs. While Meta's Horizon Worlds appears to be bringing social spaces to VR, Microsoft is focusing more on collaborative, work-related tools. Microsoft plans to roll-out Mesh for Microsoft Teams in 2022
, an immersive workplace on the metaverse where employee's avatars can collaborate and join virtual meetings. Accenture, which worked with Microsoft to build out Mesh products, has onboard tens of thousand of new hires on Mesh after the pandemic hit. They even have two digital workplaces — One Accenture Park and a digital replica of its One Manhattan West office in New York.
Data Privacy in the Metaverse
One of the biggest points of contentions is privacy. One can argue that Microsoft is perceived to be better at guaranteeing data privacy, especially after the lawsuits and hearings that Facebook has faced. Therefore, convincing users that their data will be safe will be fairly easy.
Meta, on the other hand, has reiterated its commitment to data privacy in the metaverse, stating that it will reduce data gathering activities to protect users and their data, and provide people with transparency and control over their data, most future users will be unconvinced. However, former breaches of data stories are more than enough to leave users with a heavy dose of doubt. It is ranked 21 out of the top 35 tech giants in terms of privacy. Despite the major data breaches, the Facebook ecosystem of apps has always remained desirable to consumers — it has 1.93 billion daily active users.
Who Will Win the Race?
Meta's vision is more in line with concepts of the future world we see in science fiction, which involves people spending the majority of their time hanging out in virtual worlds. While this trend may have accelerated due to the pandemic, will it persist when the world (finally) open up?
Microsoft has long been a strong enterprise player, and its collaboration and productivity solutions are still one of the most popular in the office. Adding more immersive collaboration features to their current model makes sense in the near future, especially since many people are currently in remote work or hybrid arrangements in the ongoing pandemic.
However, with emerging technologies, it is anyone's guess who will turn out to be the eventual winners. According to Pew Research, in 2011, smartphone adoption rates
in the U.S. is 35%. Now, 10 years later, it is at 85%. Will that be the same for VR and mixed-reality headsets? Only time will tell.
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