With a strong background in cognitive science, our team would inevitably take a closer look at the linguistical aspect of the word ‘metaverse’ before deep-diving into the concept itself.
With ‘meta’ meaning ‘above and beyond’ and ‘verse’, here used as a replacement for ‘universe’, which means all the things that exist in the cosmos including space and time, the ‘Metaverse’ can be defined as a transcended and elevated, replica of the world we know today, including time, space, social settings and experiences.
From a more pragmatic perspective, the metaverse is an evolution of the internet into a 3D virtual and augmented space, made for people (or their avatars) to work, shop, have fun, work out, socialize, relax, learn, etc. Many factors come into play to actually enable this metaverse, including hardware, tools and technologies enabling interactions, and content.
Hardware: “the next big thing is AR”
Oculus Quest 2 total unit sales appear to reach 4 million, and Facebook announced their next product release will be Ray Ban smart glasses, with features probably similar to the fourth generation of Snap Spectacles. Apple is working on high-end AR glasses with a release planned in 2022, and Microsoft won a $22 billion deal to provide the US army with HoloLens 2.
VR adoption is accelerating, but AR or MR in the form-factor of casual glasses is the bigger bet.
App and platform revenues are increasing
Hardware alone is not enough to drive mass adoption. The metaverse’s existence relies on the quality and quantity of content available. A good indicator for AR/VR adoption is its software sales, especially the trend among software sales reaching $1 million in revenue yearly. If developers can be profitable, it means it’s sustainable for more developers to jump in the market, creating a network effect that attracts an even broader audience.
From 2019 to 2021, VR software sales increased threefold, and by the end of 2019, 100 VR titles generated over $1 million in revenue, 1.5 times more than in 2017. The VR learning platform, ‘Engage’, generated $1.4M in revenue in the first half of 2021 (nearly twice its revenue last year during the same period).
There is a strong focus on building easy-to-integrate content and 3D assets, using content as a lever for end-user acquisition. Niantic recently announced the hire of Dan Morris, previously leading developer relation at Oculus, to bring more third-party game developers on Niantic’s AR content platform Niantic Lightship. In May, Snap announced the launch of Creator Marketplace to help connect brands with AR creators (Snap Spectacles 4 are only available to creators).
“Social technology” needs interaction technology
The metaverse, ultimately, is about the ability to interact, either with content or with people. Technologies that enable seamless interactions and recreate a sense of presence are the underlying tools that will make the metaverse the actual “expression of social technology”, in the words of Zuckerberg.
We’re seeing an increase in AR and VR headsets supporting hand tracking as a native feature: in the past two years alone, the number of devices supporting hand tracking and gesture recognition capabilities has jumped 150% (Internal research).
Best-selling devices that set XR industry standards are supporting hand tracking as a native feature. (HoloLens 1 and 2, Quest and Quest 2) or as an add-on (HTC, Nreal). They simplify interactions and increase the sense of presence.
Smartphones, like XR Heads Up Displays, will co-exist as windows of the metaverse: users will hop from AR to VR to smartphone-based AR and back. Gesture controls will make it easy to switch spaces without disrupting the experience with multiple controllers.
Hand tracking is in high demand not only because it simplifies interactions. It’s also a way to capture the users’ full attention: hands mobilize a large part of the brain and increases one’s proprioception (the ability to be aware of one’s body position in space without having to look at it). Hand tracking results in increased immersion and a better sense of presence.
Eye-tracking too is a feature that will make interactions more realistic. Facebook Research Labs said they are working on a technology that will enable users to make eye contact with other users in VR. Many headsets now include this feature, including some of Varjo’s and Pico’s headsets.
Many pieces need to come together to create a credible and enjoyable metaverse, and interaction technologies like hand tracking, voice recognition and eye-tracking link together the people, the world, and the meta-world.
The way we implement them will determine whether the metaverse is worth experiencing, or not.