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Meta has doubled-down on its metaverse ambitions with over $10 billion in promised investments, many acquisitions, and a name change. But what does this really mean for the metaverse for enterprises?
Meta’s many efforts to improve its Quest (Oculus) VR hardware, develop comfortable AR glasses, and AI backbone could transform the way business managers, engineers, customer support, and repair technicians interact with the real world. But a lot of work will be required to catch up with Microsoft, which is the dominant leader in this space. Microsoft is already starting to connect the dots between its HoloLens mixed reality hardware, digital twins, cloud service, and Mesh – its upcoming metaverse for Teams.
[ Special report : The Metaverse: How close are we? ]
Many experts believe that Meta will focus on extending its strength to capture attention at scale and then monetize it through advertising. David Pring-Mill, founder and chief analyst at Policy2050, a technology analyst firm, said, “Their preferred use cases for a metaverse would likely represent a continuation of that business model.”
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Down the road, he expects that engineering around the needs of engineers could represent a viable B2B pathway for Meta and other players. Coming to market with the best and simplest hardware could drive buy-in for digital twins projects, especially when resources are thin. “I think that VR/AR is a plausible way to get other people to visualize or emotionally respond to new projects,” Pring-Mill said.
Metaverse will Focus on collaboration
Meta’s early wins in the enterprise are likely to focus on improving collaboration. Chris Mattmann, chief technology and innovation officer at NASA JPL and adjunct research professor at USC, is already experimenting with using Quest2, Spatial.io, and Facebook Horizons to improve remote collaboration.
“Having meetings in the Metaverse re-creates company culture and brings people together even though they are perhaps now permanently apart,” Mattmann said.
Facebook realizes this and, for collaboration and meetings, has made it easy to build apps on the Quest2. These apps push a lot of the complexity into end-user devices such as Quest2, iPhones, Macs, and PCs. It’s still a challenge, especially for the less technically savvy. But Mattmann finds that Meta’s “Metaverse OS” is getting simple enough for more users to leverage.
Enterprise is nice to have for Meta
Other VR experts say that business use cases are likely to take a backseat to Meta’s consumer focus on social media. “For Meta, the enterprise is a nice-to-have business line, and its main focus is the consumer market,” said Antony Vitillo, VR developer for New Technology Walkers in Turin, Italy.
Although Meta is introducing some business features in its vision of the Metaverse, its master plan will be devoted to consumers, he said. This echoes what it is already doing on the web, where its Workplace app is targeted at enterprises but not a main source of revenue.
In the short term, he expects Meta to focus on implementing its “defy distance” vision into the enterprise space, too. Early efforts include Horizon Workrooms for organizing meetings, Quest for business, and Infinite Office for accessing business apps in VR. Accenture bought 60,000 Oculus Quest 2 units last year to favor the onboarding and training of its new employees. “The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote working technology, and while VR is not ready yet to be used for eight hours a day, it hopefully will in a few years,” Vitillo said.
Digital twins and the metaverse
The broader adoption of low-cost VR hardware could also accelerate the adoption of digital twins workflows in the enterprise. Offering a high-fidelity and immersive virtual environment that mirrors what is happening in the real world could be incredibly useful for planning around physical facilities.
“Imagine an airport that could simulate what would happen if they saw a record passenger flow if baggage conveyor systems stopped working, or what that advertisement would look like in that particular spot,” said Brian Jackson, research director in the CIO practice at Info-Tech Research Group.
Meta could combine its capabilities constructing virtual worlds with its synthetic data generation to create this sort of virtual experimentation ground for businesses. This could build on Meta’s recent acquisition of AI.Reverie, which specializes in synthetic-data generation, specifically for training cognitive vision algorithms with video and images. This would be useful for training or planning renovations to a facility.
Instead of reconstructing an environment in a digital space, Meta could also map digital information on top of the real world. This could help engineers and technicians keep their hands free while seeing digital annotations on top of machinery they are working to repair or operate. This could combine Meta’s mixed reality capabilities with its social management capabilities, so workers could collaborate with experts in real time, said Jackson.
Bumpy road ahead for Meta’s metaverse and the enterprise
Meta still has a few bumps in the road to navigate to gain traction in the enterprise. For starters, it needs to build buy-in from employees who may push back due to fears about mismanagement of their data or attention. “Facebook has always guaranteed that enterprise data does not have the same treatment as consumer data on its platform, but not everyone trusts them,” said Vitillo.
It also has to contend with competitive hardware from HTC, which Vitillo contends is better-suited for the enterprise market (Vive Focus 3), better enterprise services, and its enterprise meeting tools (Vive Sync). Other enterprise metaverse competitors include Engage, Immersed, and Microsoft’s pending Mesh for Teams.
Meta also faces significant competition for the Metaverse backend from Nvidia’s Omniverse. Pring-Mill said. “I would apply a higher success probability to Nvidia than to Meta, despite the nearly $250 billion difference in market cap. Facebook’s DNA involved gradually transforming social credibility into data monetization after scaling its efforts more competently than predecessors like Friendster and Myspace. I believe that their social credibility has been eroded by scandals, their critical mass might not fully transfer, and the technical challenges of seamless AR or more comfortable VR are significant.”
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