Pieter Van Leugenhagen
Nov 5th, 2021
Pieter Van Leugenhagen
We are still a long way from mass adoption of extended reality (XR)—which is the collective name for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). But among tech giants, the battle is raging for what they see as the next big computing platform. The corona crisis has only added fuel to the fire. That is why, every month, I serve you with an overview of the most important, notable events and changes in the XR landscape.
If you want to know where we stand with the adoption rate of new technology, look at the titans among us. Mainstream adoption of emerging technology often originates in enterprise solutions and trickles down from there into our living rooms—the final frontier, so to speak. It is no different for VR. So when Accenture buys 60,000 Oculus headsets, the lights on our control panel start blinking. Or maybe there’s even some fireworks going on.
Why the jumbo order, you ask? Three words: corona, remote, connections. Julie Sweet, the CEO of Accenture, explains that in order to keep their huge workforce and all the upcoming new-hires connected and engaged, they are only too happy to enlist the help of immersive technology. And, yes, because it’s cool, too.
Likewise, the guys at Salesforce have understood that the said holy trinity (corona, remote, connections) dominates digital strategies from here to San Fran. A meeting with Nick Botter is a meeting with his avatar, with a view on the Golden Bridge, from your home office in a tiny hamlet. Salesforce teamed up with Glue, builders of cosy digital meeting rooms, to maintain the right balance between work and play. Not unimportant, because you don’t want an audience of zombies during your monthly reporting.
HTC is coming out with the Vive Flow VR headset, weighing less than 200 grams. It has a built-in ventilation system—you never know, with global warming and all that. On launch day, there will already be hundreds of apps to try and use, with a view of 100 degrees wide.
So far for the numbers, but there is still little clarity about the added value of this hardware. What is certain, though, is that the leap into the living room has been made. This headset is not for heavy gaming. So what does it do? At least, it optimises your chill-with-Netflix evening, taking away the distraction from other screens in the living room and with above-average sound quality so you don’t accidentally catch any spoilers. (Who’s that doll? *squidgame*)
Not long after the whistles were blown about Facebook’s guilty conscience, the company announced that they are changing their name. Goodbye blue F and welcome infinity sign. From now on, the umbrella organisation that, apart from the Facebook brand, also includes WhatsApp and Instagram, will go by the name of Meta. Yes, you heard that right.
Last month, I wrote to you about the big development in tech-town: The Metaverse. If it delivers on its promises, that Metaverse will pretty much take the place of what we call our world today. Or rather, our world will be expanded by a digital counterpart and be renamed the Metaverse. (If your head is crackling with incomprehension, be sure to read this blog.) If we now add up 1 + 1, we might conclude that Mark Zuckerberg has been so ambitious—or conceited, depending on whom you ask—that he is renaming his company to ‘world’. How dares he? He sure does.
This decision reminds me of Google, whose umbrella organisation is called Alphabet. Also quite over-the-top. Whether Facebook’s move was more than a cosmetic operation, only time will tell. That it sped up the Metaverse developments, however, is certain. Because Microsoft could not stay behind now.
With less drama than Facebook, Microsoft announced the launch of Mesh. This is a new feature in their Teams application. You know, the beating heart of every company since the pandemic. The experience of the past two years has taught Microsoft that virtual meetings are here to stay. Hence, they are now making them as pleasant and life-like as possible. Mesh was created “to signal we’re in the same virtual space”, in the words of Jeff Teper. “We’re one team, we’re one group, and we help take the formality down a peg and the engagement up a peg.”
It may not sound like much, but Mesh has all the ingredients to become a set dish on the Metaverse menu. Employees create an avatar, organisations build virtual environments called metaverses, and the two meet. That makes me happy, since at this point in the story, things are coming together nicely. Because what do you think Accenture is going to run on those 60,000 brand new headsets? Microsoft Teams. Meshing it up together.
Today, the Metaverse is still more of a hypothesis, an idea, a dream to unify our online presence. The avatar, our digital counterpart, is ideally just one entity, whether we are shopping at Zalando, sitting through a team meeting or farming in Minecraft. That is the general idea. But as we all know, the vast seas between dream and reality are riddled with storms and monsters.
If both Facebook (sorry, Meta) and Microsoft are going to build their own Metaverses, then the dream has de facto failed. Closed ecosystems are at odds with inter-operability. You also surf the Internet, not an internet.
And so, the question of the month is: who will win this? Will Microsoft’s experience and mileage be the deciding factor, or will it be Meta’s youthful force? Or is there a third player lurking behind the stage curtains? For all your predictions, one address: Yondr.agency. We have already made our bets.