Editor’s note: 2021 is also known as Metaverse Year One. This year, the Metaverse became one of the hottest topics in the tech world. There are many big companies in the tech industry that have followed the pace of game developers and startups and have deployed in the Metaverse. Is the Metaverse really the trend of future technology development? This article is from compilation, and it introduces the story of many technology giants starting to lay out the Metaverse.
Image credit: Unsplash.com @Kasia Bojanowska
Metaverse is now one of the hottest keywords in the tech industry, and it is rich and all-encompassing. It can refer to a virtual world where people can use their imaginations to the fullest. Or, it might not be so fancy, just a place where you can hold business meetings without leaving your home.
For the tech giants backing this grand concept, the Metaverse could be a more concrete existence: it could be the next big buck opportunity.
After a 15-year boom in mobile computing, tech giants have transformed themselves into multi-trillion-dollar giants. Many companies believe that controlling access to the Metaverse and virtual reality may be at the heart of an entirely new business, akin to the personal computer and web browser of the 1990s, or the smartphone and the early 2000s. mobile application.
For this industry, 15 years of waiting for the emergence of new technology trends is too long. During this period, many companies have set big ambitions and expected to dominate fields such as advanced artificial intelligence and quantum computing by now, but as things stand, the process may take longer than expected. The technology behind brand new concepts like cryptocurrencies and decentralized computing seems promising, but in general, its usefulness in the mainstream remains unclear.
As a result, tech companies are now marketing devices that allow consumers to enter a virtual world and control their experience within it. Suddenly, building new products around the Metaverse took on a new allure that was rarely seen in any industry.
Mark Zuckerberg was so excited about the Metaverse that he made a dramatic decision last year: to change the company’s name from Facebook to Meta. Google has also been developing Metaverse-related technologies for years.Apple, which can be said to be the biggest winner in the mobile development boom, is also developing related equipment products. Microsoft has also begun to deploy in the Metaverse field, and has launched a headset device for enterprises and government agencies.
Venture capitalist and tech writer Matthew Ball has written extensively on the concept of the Metaverse and the hype surrounding it. “Today, most companies believe that the Metaverse is coming,” he said. “This may be a bit ahead of the curve in terms of the current state of technology, but it’s also a general response to the enormous opportunity.”
A research firm estimates that the market for Metaverse technologies, including games, VR headsets and other emerging devices and online services, has topped $49 billion in 2020, and is set to grow 40 percent annually in the future.
“It’s the evolution of the internet,” said Alex Kipman, who has led research on VR technology at Microsoft for more than a decade. “If you’re like us, you want to be a part of it.”
Shifting focus to the realm of the Metaverse has other benefits. For giants like Facebook, that helps them sidestep issues such as content moderation, misinformation and various monopolistic practices that regulators have accused them of.However, in the realm of the Metaverse, there may be the same problems, such as privacy protection and how to manage user behavior in the virtual world.
The Metaverse is not a new concept. The term was coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson back in 1992, and game companies should be familiar with the concept. For decades, in massively multiplayer online games, there has been a so-called digital world where game users can meet, chat, and do business. Some games, like Second Life, which was all the rage more than a decade ago, are designed to be purely social spaces.
In 2019, at the site of Facebook’s annual developer conference, relevant personnel were experiencing the Oculus Go VR headset. Image credit: Stephen Lam
In 2014, Facebook bought Oculus, a startup focused on making VR headsets, for more than $2 billion, and its VR headsets can trick users’ brains into feeling like they’re in a digital world. Zuckerberg then went on to describe VR as the next big computing platform. However, it is still difficult to predict the specific implementation time.
Zuckerberg said the Metaverse will permeate everyday life in ways that go beyond gaming, offering new ways to buy goods and services, connect with friends and family, and collaborate with colleagues. But right now, Meta’s VR headsets are quite bulky, and wearing the device can sometimes make you feel dizzy and nauseous. It completely covers the user’s eyes, isolating the user from the world around them.
Apple is also working on optimized VR headsets, according to people familiar with the matter. Over the years, Apple has created many popular user-friendly products, but factors such as physical conditions have directly limited the development progress of Apple’s VR headset products.
Apple’s prototype, which looks like ski goggles, requires users to wear a separate piece of hardware that can’t be removed from their body, the person said. Apple declined to comment.
Many experts believe that Zuckerberg’s vision will ultimately only be realized through lightweight glasses-based devices that superimpose digital images onto real-world footage — also commonly known as “augmented reality” (AR).
As people walk down the street, they can check the latest sports results through digital displays that seem to hover in front of their eyes. They can also sit down and have a conversation with the person next to them, or even have a conversation with someone who is not around.
Google is also working on a similar headset. As early as 2013, Google launched its first smart glasses, Google Glass.However, due to its design, coupled with its mishandling of personal privacy, the product has faced backlash. Today, many years later, Google is stepping up the development of new products.
In 2013, Google launched the smart glasses Google Glass. Image credit: Justin Sullivan
Last year, Google acquired a startup called North, which had previously bought many of the patents behind computer chip giant Intel’s smart glasses project. According to early testers, the product could project digital images directly into the eyes of people wearing glasses. Although heavier than normal glasses, they are very comfortable to wear. Google declined to comment.
However, it’s still an unknown just how appealing everything the tech companies are portraying will appeal to the mainstream. Nikhil Balram, who has been in charge of Google’s VR and AR hardware development until November 2021, said a VR headset that completely covers your eyes “is just a device that you use for certain tasks, although The whole experience might be amazing, but it’s not for the masses.”
Intel’s AR project has also created a smart glasses product prototype Vaunt, and also invited consumers to participate in the test. Jerry Bautista, the project leader, said in a recent interview that the devices reflect a broad market outlook that not only serves as a technological device for individual needs, but can also evolve into enabling new A new computing platform for marketing sources.
“We treat hardware as a giveaway, but make money from data. For every dollar invested in hardware, we earn $3 in software and data sales,” Bautista said.
So it’s not hard to see why companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Meta are all exploring similar technologies. For some companies, it could be a new way to sell software and services; for others, it could be a new way to sell advertising, according to Bautista.
However, some experts said that the perfect process of similar technology may take 10 years or more. Although some AR glasses are currently as small and light as ordinary glasses, they still cannot provide enough computing power to meet the basic image processing performance required for daily use.
“Sometimes, ‘maybe 10 years’ may just be another way of saying ‘I don’t know,'” said Barram, who left Google late last year to join an Israeli company developing an innovative wearable AR platform. Mainly responsible for the research and development of VR headset products.
In 2018, Intel shut down the Vaunt project. Before that, it sold many of its patents to North, a startup Google later acquired. Intel ultimately found it difficult to answer many of the questions about the technology, Bautista said.
He also said that due to privacy regulations in Europe and other countries around the world, the disruption caused by the Vaunt project may outweigh the value it generates. The company estimates that 3 percent of Intel’s annual revenue could be at risk if the project isn’t shut down.
Today, many of the world’s most influential tech companies face the same problem.
“We can build amazing products,” Bautista said. “The hardware isn’t the hardest part. The business model isn’t the hardest part. It’s not the hardest part to find where and how these devices are used. The hard part is, what happens once the data leaks out?”
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