What is the metaverse?

What is the metaverse

The metaverse first emerged as a science fiction concept: an immersive fictional world where people could live a ‘second life’, complete with 3D virtual real estate, virtual objects, and virtual jobs. If you ask people ‘what is the metaverse’, they’ll probably describe something like this fictional concept. However, this concept is only scarcely related to the ‘real metaverse’ we have today.

The metaverse is best defined as the confluence of all current extended reality (XR) technologies, which enable users to participate in a ‘world’ of virtual and immersive experiences. McKinsey calls it a ‘3D enabled digital space’, but it might be easier (and more accurate) to think of the metaverse as a 3D internet. This is a better reflection of its current state of development, consisting of discrete experiences which are not always connected to one another, but accessible using defined technologies and platforms.


What is the metaverse used for today?

According to Gartner, by 2026, 25% of us will spend 1 hour or more in the metaverse each day. By 2030, we might spend more time in the metaverse than in the real world, according to KPMG. That sounds like a wild prediction. But, considering that people today already spend more than 6 hours daily on the internet, it’s not hard to imagine that our use of the metaverse could equal this in coming years.

There’s a lot of hype around the metaverse, made worse by distinctly ropey simulations of what the metaverse might look like. It’s worth noting that the most enthusiastic metaverse evangelists will be tech-happy early adopters who see gaming as a vital part of life. This has led to a skewed interpretation of the metaverse in the media – and doesn’t reflect how people use it today and will use it in the future.


The metaverse’s state of development

It’s not quite true to say that the metaverse ‘doesn’t exist yet’, although it’s certainly still in an early(ish) stage of development.

Today’s metaverse is the sum of all extended reality technologies as they are right now. As these technologies continue to mature, the metaverse will take a more definite form.

A big step forward will happen when separate experiences start to become unified on consolidated platforms. Comparing the metaverse to its 2D predecessor (the internet), we can look at how the internet worked in 1985 – before it was the ‘world wide web’ as we know it.

Back then, you had to use FTP or Telnet to dial-up a specific connection to another computer or a defined web server from which you could download specific files, or potentially connect you to other servers (or not). Each ‘internet experience’ was isolated, and hard to use without special equipment and knowledge.

As more servers became connected, it became possible to use hypertext (thanks to hypertext transfer protocol) as a way of linking resources. Soon after, the first web browsers emerged and in a blink of an eye, the ‘internet’ as we know it came into being.

We’re at the cusp of this next phase for the metaverse. We are still awaiting a unification of standards and protocols for the metaverse, but it’s not far off. There are already platforms emerging for sharing 3D content, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) experiences. Furthermore, if we consider the metaverse as the internet’s next evolutionary stage, then the framework is already well established – it’s just a question of time.

The costs of producing AR and VR experiences are also rapidly decreasing, as is the cost of equipment for accessing these experiences. In the case of AR, all you need is a smartphone and the Fectar app.


New developments in extended reality and the metaverse

We’re already seeing more crossover between extended reality experiences. For example, some VR goggles are equipped with passthrough cameras, so users can choose to see the real world in their immersive virtual one. This makes it much more like AR.

Another merging of technologies can be seen with mixed reality. Mixed reality is an advanced form of augmented reality (AR), where users can manipulate virtual objects that are superimposed on the real world. This interactive capability of mixed reality is distinctly VR-like, while still very much being a type of AR – showing yet another example of how these technologies are merging as they mature.

The technology for experiencing the metaverse is constantly improving. Today’s VR goggles have lower latency, and are more lightweight. Likewise, AR glasses are becoming almost indistinguishable from trendy designer glasses or shades – making them highly portable and easy to use in numerous settings. As a result, they are becoming more widely used in business and domestic situations.

In addition, new business cases for metaverse technologies emerge each year. As more companies and organizations start to gain a foothold in this emerging space, the pace of innovation will increase dramatically, and proven applications will be repeated and become more ‘connected’ with unified platforms.


What are the business applications of the metaverse?

Businesses are already using the metaverse, most notably with digital twins. Digital twins are simulated versions of real things and systems, such as factories or entire cities. By rendering these as a 3D visual simulation, the digital twins can be explored and manipulated in an intuitive way using mixed reality or VR. Digital twins have shown value in making complex decisions with multiple layers of interdependent factors.

The metaverse is also being used (as AR and VR) in a variety of industries and settings. For example, using AR glasses, a factory manager can see a data layer superimposed on their real-world equipment or personnel, and warehouse staff can find the right items see the best route for picking or putting-away inventory.

There’s also a very strong set of use cases for training in the metaverse, using AR or VR training platforms to deploy a range of different sessions in a variety of knowledge areas, including medicine and aerospace engineering.


What is the metaverse’s future in business?

Looking at emerging use-cases, companies are starting to realize that the metaverse is an incredible tool for marketing. Using AR experiences or VR spaces, companies are finding unique ways to promote their brand and raise awareness of their products or services. From VR games that drive customers to physical stores, to apps that allow users to try out products with AR – and this is just the beginning of what’s possible.

Soon, we’ll use the metaverse as a tool for ‘remote presence’, joining meetings in virtual spaces in AR and VR. This will be particularly useful for situations where remote assistance is required, such as technical and after-sales support.

Furthermore, the potential in areas like healthcare is huge – and could significantly increase people’s ability to access affordable healthcare.


How consumers use the metaverse

Although businesses have the most to gain from the metaverse, consumers are also a major user group. Entertainment is a well-established consumer use-case for VR and AR, and this will continue.

Augmented reality (AR) has established itself as the dominant extended reality technology for consumers, as it can be enjoyed by anyone with a smartphone. People use the metaverse to experience AR concerts in their own living room, or watch a full-cast musical superimposed on their garden. And of course, gaming will continue to be a strong source of interest among consumers. As many games are already based on 3D environments, VR and AR games are a natural development for the gaming industry.

But it’s not all fun and games. Consumers are also using the metaverse to explore educational AR experiences, and for the serious business of shopping.


The future of the metaverse

Reflecting on the metaverse’s current state of maturity, it’s easy to see that we’re still some distance from a fully integrated virtual world. Additionally, many metaverse spaces will always be entirely separate and disconnected from public view, especially for business-cases where information security is an important consideration, so the vision of a seamless and fully connected virtual world will not reflect the real state of play for metaverse technologies.

It’s not a ‘mature’ technology yet, but the metaverse is quite close to becoming a mature technology. As more proven business cases emerge, we’ll start to see off-the-shelf solutions that can be used across multiple industries and situations. Best-of-breed metaverse solutions for business are just around the corner.

As more consumers start to engage with AR and VR experiences and 3D content, the technologies supporting these will also become more widespread, better connected, and cheaper. The next stage of development for the metaverse is the consolidation of platforms, greater cross-platform support, and content that can work with either VR or AR, and this shift has already begun.

As these islands become connected, the metaverse will become a new layer of 3D experiences accessible via the internet just like any other website or web service.

For most businesses, the metaverse will be used as virtual real-estate, effectively replacing the need for conference rooms and office space. Virtual meeting places will become the ‘zoom call’ of the near future, and will be accessible from a wide array of devices.  

And, yes – the metaverse will become a ‘second life’ for a minority of users – but for most of us it will simply be a feature of everyday life as something ‘the internet does’, like playing us music or showing us movies. Generative AI will also play a significant role in creating on-demand metaverse content.


What you need to do to prepare

First, accept it. The metaverse isn’t a gimmick or mere hype. It’s a reality today, and it will continue to grow and develop at an incredible pace in the next decade. Just like the 2D internet, the 3D internet will be seen as indispensable in under a decade.

Next, you need to figure out what to do about it. You can ignore it and be left behind as the rest of the world moves on to the next big technological revolution, or embrace it and find out ways you can make the most of it.

If you’re a business, it’s worth thinking about how 3D content fits with your customers and what you do. This might require some ‘blue sky thinking’, but you can start by seeing ways you can take what you do now into a virtual space.

For example, you could sell items, or offer customers assistance with a virtual store. In this case, you’d need to start with creating 3D content for your products and using chatbots to help serve customers without human intervention. If you want to use a virtual showroom, then start to experiment with using your 3D content to build a virtual space in AR or VR.

Naturally, you’ll want to find ways to monetize your expedition into the metaverse, however it’s better to find ways to deliver value first. When you start with finding ways to help customers using this technology, you will automatically concentrate resources on worthwhile projects people will use.

It’s easier than ever to start creating 3D content and virtual spaces with the Fectar studio. Even better, you can share your creations instantly with the 6+ million users of the Fectar platform with the Fectar app.  

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