Schrödinger's Metaverse: Both hype and reality - Outlook
Some preach the metaverse while others have nothing to do with it. What do experts say? I was at the Gartner IT Symposium 2022 and these are the trends for the next few years.
Dr. Rolf Illenberger is the CEO of VRdirect, a speaker, and a media expert with decades of experience. As a member of the World Economic Forum, he focuses on "Governance and Value Creation in the Metaverse". He was at the Gartner IT Symposium 2022 in Barcelona and summarizes his impressions for us.
Few topics experienced such a roller coaster ride this year as "the metaverse." Led by Meta, which even put the metaverse in its name, a veritable gold rush developed at the beginning of the year. At trade fairs in the USA, even LAN cables bore "metaverse-ready" stickers. About a year ago, the Washington Post quoted me as follows on the subject of metaverse:
"2022 will be a “race into the metaverse” as large tech companies wrestle for slices of an emerging market. Google, Microsoft and Apple may introduce their own headsets and operating systems for the metaverse, like their equivalents for PCs and smartphones."
Nearly a year later, the vision of the metaverse is still not clear to everyone. What is it going to be? A new internet? The beginning of a cyberpunk world with Ready Player One vibes? Or just a marketing vehicle for NFTs and crypto speculation?
As an IT consulting and market research firm, Gartner is known for the Gartner Hype Cycle, among other things. Despite the metaverse fallout from the stock market trough as well as Meta's mixed image, it made it into the "Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies" for the first time this August.
I was at the Gartner IT Symposium in Barcelona, listening to Gartner's latest insights and outlook around the metaverse and talking to leading innovation experts. How do you expect the topic to evolve over the coming years?
The metaverse: Searching for a good explanation
Gartner defines "the metaverse" as a collectively shared virtual space created by the convergence of virtually augmented physical and digital reality. It is "the next level of interaction in virtual and physical worlds."
Persistence is a key factor here, according to Gartner, as virtual spaces and objects would be permanently connected to reality. Decentralization and blockchain technology (Web3) may also shape areas of the metaverse, such as finance or services.
Especially important is the idea that the metaverse would have to be interoperable. The ability for the real and digital worlds to interact smoothly - for example in digital twins, goods, and currencies - and between the various "metaverses" of tech corporations, is crucial for acceptance. Access would have to be as simple as using a browser that can navigate to all websites on the internet.
For Gartner, three areas make up a complete metaverse:
- Transport: The ability to immerse yourself in a virtual world.
- Transform: Bringing the digital world into the physical world. This enables access to real-time information, collaboration, and experiences in the physical world through augmented reality capabilities.
- Transact: The economic foundation of the metaverse facilitated by cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and blockchain.
Evolution instead of revolution
Since the launch of commercial VR in 2016, there has been constant talk of a mass market. The breakthrough for VR is only one "killer app" away. Standalone VR will automatically ensure that everyone puts on a VR headset. Cloud streaming will make photorealistic VR possible for standalone VR headsets.
Even though the technology has become increasingly popular in the past two years, particularly in the business sector, it will still take a while before VR and later AR become widespread. Gartner, therefore, speaks of an evolution that will take place in three phases:
- Emerging: App-based, device-dependent, access-based pricing
- Advanced: super apps, natively spatially aware experiences, the beginning of interoperability
- Mature: standards-based, device-independent, highly interoperable, tiered experiences
Gartner sees the "Emerging" stage lasting up to and including 2027. They expect the "Advanced" stage to pick up speed from 2025. They expect the complete, "Mature" Metaverse for the period after 2029. The timeline largely coincides with the statements of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who does not expect a real "return on investment" for his company's metaverse spending until the 2030s.
In the enterprise context, these developments would impact employee experiences and their workflows. New ways of collaboration, new markets, more efficient processes, and better employee motivation are gradually changing the world of work.
The idea of increasing VR meetings also holds up at Gartner. The main advantage over video conferencing is higher engagement and no "always-on camera fatigue." However, this thesis has yet to be proven on a broad scale and may still require significant advances in hardware and software. The trend toward mixed reality, and thus the merging of virtual and physical experiences, is also likely to be an important building block.
Gartner & the metaverse: Hurdles, opportunities, results
Gartner divides the metaverse into the following areas and lists the respective difficulties the technology is currently facing:
- Spatial computing: technology, especially for AR glasses, is still very limited
- Gaming: new and good content is expensive
- Digital Humans: limited possibilities, only emerging
- Virtual Spaces: Complex and expensive to scale up
- Shared Experiences: unequal access to tools and networking
- Tokenized Assets: cybersecurity and fraud are big issues here
Nevertheless, Gartner thinks overcoming these hurdles is worthwhile and predicts metaverse technologies (such as augmented reality) achieving tangible results in the coming years. These include improving workplace safety and increasing retail sales, for example, through VR training or mixed reality.
Revenue opportunities through persistent goods are expected to open up new revenue streams, and employees will be better connected, able to collaborate more effectively, and will be more efficiently integrated into business processes.
Metaverse recommendations: Learn, Explore, Cautiously Introduce
Gartner boldly predicts that more than 40 percent of large enterprises worldwide using a combination of Web3, spatial computing, and digital twins in metaverse-based projects to increase revenue by 2027.
Nevertheless, investments should be made with circumspection and caution, as it is not yet possible to predict which areas will become relevant in the long term. In the next one to three years, companies should therefore primarily prepare for the metaverse.
Specifically, Gartner recommends:
- Develope examples of how metaverse use cases align with core business operations
- Develope business and technology strategies for participation
- Beware of investing in specific metaverses
The metaverse needs a lot of education
Many people conflate crypto technologies and Web3 with the metaverse. While there are points of contact and possible advantages in terms of persistent digital goods, secure commerce, and finance, baseless speculation without fundamental economic data on NFTs and cryptocurrencies is a loose foundation for meaningful concepts.
The metaverse as a buzzword still suffers from unclear vision and often inappropriate communication. This even though we already know and take advantage of the benefits of immersive technologies like virtual reality. VR has long since left the experimental phase and is creating new work processes. Examples include remote collaboration in 3D design or in routine setup through training.
Nevertheless, according to Gartner, we are still in the innovation and early adopter phase. For metaverse technologies and the metaverse to "grow up," more needs to be said about the results of the innovation phase. The benefits need to be seen more broadly.
For example, why is VR useful, and how does it benefit my company and me? In any case, the impressive technology as well as the initial "wow" effects are not sufficient as an end in themselves - certainly not in business.
Laying the groundwork for the metaverse
According to Gartner, the metaverse will touch all areas of life, from technology to environmental issues and politics to social and cultural spheres. The groundwork is being laid now. Companies that start with VR are now thinking about their work and production processes for the metaverse, focusing on VR content, and introducing employees to the new digital age. This makes them more attractive to young talent.
The metaverse is also a point in time, namely when we start using VR and AR more than traditional screens in our everyday digital lives. When this time comes, VR-savvy companies will already be metaverse-ready - similar to the companies that had their first website online before the big internet boom.