The Metaverse: hold your virtual horses
Boom. Another article in the newspaper about The Metaverse. Panic. What if we are missing out as a company? What if we miss the train of this new technological wave? What do we need to do? If these questions, and more, popped into your head the last couple of weeks, don’t worry. We got you covered. Do you need to invest tons of money in The Metaverse right away? Or do you still have time to think about the impact it might have on your business? Let’s find out together.
Why the Meta buzz?
In 1992, Neal Stephenson first coined the term ‘Metaverse’ when publishing Snow Crash. In this science fiction novel, he depicts a virtual world that can be accessed through wearable goggles. In this Metaverse, people can interact, own virtual real estate and even spend their lives there. Snow Crash inspired a lot of software companies when creating solutions like Google Earth, Second Life, Quake and so on.
Fast forward to 29 years later. Facebook announces that “from now on, they will be metaverse-first”. They pledge to build an exciting Metaverse in which the virtual and physical worlds blend in seamlessly. Such a Metaverse, as brought to life in this Facebook Connect video, promises infinite possibilities and fantastic experiences that one can only dream about today. It offers tremendous (business) opportunities with the potential to create a whole new economy as well as a major shift in the way we work, study, shop and interact with others.
Since no one wants to miss out on these opportunities, it seems like every company that takes its future seriously, has been working on something ‘Metaverse-related’. Nike has built its own version of the Metaverse in Roblox, called Nikeland. Closer to home, clothing retailer JBC opened their first store in Fortnite. Jumping on this new trend, tons of startups that sell virtual pieces of land or other NFT-related perks are popping up like mushrooms.
Chances are that you haven’t taken similar initiatives yet, which may leave you with the feeling that you are lagging behind and not ready to ‘capitalise on the Metaverse’. Should you be worried about missing the hype train? Or is the Metaverse nothing more than a fancy buzzword right now?
The Metaverse: a status update
We hate to bring this to you - but the Metaverse does not exist today. At this point, no one would be able to tell you exactly what the Metaverse will look like in the future, as it is still largely impossible to create, even with advanced versions of existing technologies.
For the past decades, many aspects of our lives have become much easier: wayfinding has evolved from map reading to simply opening up a smartphone app that tells you where to go. Obtaining a loan or receiving money no longer requires you to visit a physical bank branch. Technology that monitors your health reduces the need for regular doctor visits. This is mainly due to drastic improvements of a range of technologies, with tech solutions becoming more portable, more personal, more connected and more powerful.
Let’s give you an example. The threshold to start using AR and VR today is much lower than a decade ago. The contrast between today’s cheaper, more lightweight and easier-to-use VR glasses and the very first Oculus Development Kit in 2012 couldn’t be higher. Today, VR is used effectively in a range of settings. It is used to educate students in a safe virtual environment. Pilots are being trained in digital simulators. In factories, workers use smart glasses for order picking or get remote help from a colleague. These are just a few examples of key evolutions in VR tech. But similar evolutions are taking place in connectivity (5G), graphics (compact displays), computing power, etc.
If and when these technologies and experiences become unified, the virtual worlds they provide access to, can be referred to as the ‘Metaverse’. This concept is not new and has previously been called the ‘AR Cloud’, ‘Mirrorworld’, the ‘Magicverse’ and other fancy names. However, today, we’re still facing some major hurdles such as the interoperability and computer power required to enable users to seamlessly switch from one platform to another, and bring virtual items along. So, where does this road lead to?
The next big thing after smartphones?
As we’ve stated before, technologies typically follow an S-curved adoption rate: following their introduction, they get traction and grow rapidly. Eventually, due to new innovations, they fade out.
At In The Pocket, we’ve lived through the S-curve of smartphones. With our digital product studio, we’ve tagged along with the rise of smartphones and their accompanying apps. When mobile technologies were first introduced, our very first apps were not more than simple games, soundboards and other gimmicky exploratory attempts.
Once the technology matured and got more traction, we became able to deliver much more complex apps like Payconiq By Bancontact and Itsme. These applications have millions of active users, and fulfil impactful daily tasks which are a far cry from the gimmicky ‘mobile solutions’ from yesteryear.
While it is clear that smartphones have ruled the past 15 years and mobile software applications still deliver significant value for users today, signals can be picked up that we’ve reached the peak of the smartphone’s era. Updates aren’t that spectacular anymore and real innovations in this segment are slowly coming to a halt.
Are we ready to say farewell to the smartphone? And which technologies and hardware may replace the smartphone entirely? At this point, no one knows the answer (not even Mark Zuckerberg!). However, closely monitoring the evolution of the Metaverse building blocks will give you an indication of their positioning on the S-curve.
What to do next?
What we do know is that - if and when - the uptake of those technologies arrives, the organisations that will be ready to capitalise on the Metaverse will be those experienced in leveraging digital technologies to offer (more) value to their end users.
So what can you do today? We recommend to start experimenting with the technologies that are likely to become the building blocks of virtual worlds, including AR, VR, geospatial mapping, voice, 5G, and many more. By encouraging teams to run experiments that leverage these technologies, and share their insights and failures, you will build the domain expertise required to tap into opportunities later on.
Even without the Metaverse being a reality, the wise choice is to experiment with technologies to identify valid business cases for new solutions. And, maybe, you’ll contribute to that promised virtual garden of Eden.