More Foundational Pieces for the Metaverse Arrive, Including a Global Platform

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4Q 2022 | IN-6774

New announcements from SK Telecom, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Sony highlight the need for the buildup to the metaverse to focus on the here and now, rather than a long-off future. Companies seeking to build toward a metaverse future need to focus on creating value today and supporting a broader audience than early adopters alone. Younger generations are already embracing a Three-Dimensional (3D) future, but more effort is needed to ensure a broader audience begins making the journey if the metaverse is to live up to its billing as the future Internet.

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SK Telecom, AWS, and Sony Highlighted Key Metaverse Advancements in November 2022


News and opinions about the metaverse remain fluid and diverse, with both the naysayers and believers pointing to supporting evidence. The diversity of opinions and wealth of support for both extremes is not surprising considering the metaverse speaks to a truly transformative future that is far off on the horizon (leaving plenty of room for interpretation), which at some levels creates conflicts with a tech industry currently grappling with difficult market conditions that’s driving more attention to the here and now. Meta is a prime example where its focus on (and investments in) the longer-term vision is creating friction with investors and industry insiders pushing the company to focus more intently on its current core businesses. But how many of Meta’s issues are market driven and, therefore, less within their control, versus strategic decisions that have yet to deliver better results?

Some could argue not enough people want to participate in Three-Dimensional (3D) environments—surveys and studies have shown mixed results, but overall, the balance tips toward the positive, especially among younger audiences. While Meta Horizon World’s struggles may appear to counter the positive sentiments, SK Telecom’s recent news around ifland lend credence to more positive results. SK Telecom’s ifland now extends to every region reaching 49 countries—in contrast to Meta Horizon World’s 7 countries in North America and Western Europe. Further, SK Telecom announced the milestone of reaching 12.8 million cumulative users of ifland, which is up from just 3 million earlier in the year. While this figure is not active users, even if the Monthly Active User (MAU) figure is 10% of this total, that would still far surpass Meta’s reportedly paltry 200,000 MAUs, falling short of an internal target of 500,000 by the end of 2022 (the new goal is suggested to be 280,000). SK Telecom’s ifland expansion, and its work with other operators like Deutsche Telekom, DOCOMO, and e& also help to better localize content and services, which is a necessary step for an international service.

Part and parcel to these virtual social spaces are users’ avatars, with growing interest highlighting the shortcomings in Meta’s platform. Meta has certainly improved the appearance of its avatars following relatively recent criticisms from the broader community, but the company continues to take a more cautious approach to its avatars. Other companies have embraced more forward-looking features like enabling avatars with a better likeness to their users. Meta is innovating here as well, but has been slower to bring these features to market. Meta even commented on the difficulties of adding in leg tracking, which makes Sony’s recent announcement particularly interesting.

Sony announced a new product called “Mocopi,” which includes six motion-tracking sensors worn on the user’s head, wrists, ankles/legs, and back. Mocopi targets content creators and creatives, and carries a relatively high price of around US$360, but it demonstrates a solution to full body tracking in a reasonably low impact way (e.g., no need for external cameras). A similar solution could offer Oculus Quest users a way to better track their entire body and likely at a lower price because a Virtual Reality (VR) user would only need half of the trackers (head and arms/hands tracked by a Head-Mounted Display (HMD) and controllers). These devices may require too much effort (e.g., putting on sensors and calibration) to be a mainstream solution (for VR users), but it reflects ways other companies are advancing the market forward at a faster rate, especially when factoring in the target audience (content creators).

Meta also recently partnered with Microsoft on enterprise efforts, but again new announcements from companies like Amazon Web Services (AWS) reflect ways companies are better identifying what companies/customers need and want in the near term, while still speaking to the buildup to a metaverse. At AWS re:Invent, for example, the company announced AWS SimSpace Weaver to enable large-scale spatial simulations in the cloud. SimSpace Weaver is not a simulator itself, but a cloud compute service that allows companies to run complex multi-instance simulation workloads, that would otherwise require significant investments in on-premises hardware. While this solution is not billed directly as a metaverse solution, it speaks to the necessary advancements in computing that will be required to power metaverse applications and experiences.

Continued Progress in a Challenging Environment


The increasing focus on the here and now is favoring those solutions and platforms that are providing tangible results and benefits today across a wider audience. ifland has had more success than Meta, in part because it is focused on mobile devices, rather than VR—even with more than 10 million Quest 2 devices sold, many users reportedly don’t use the devices very often past the initial honeymoon phase (or around key game launches). Similarly in the enterprise space, VR or immersive is not yet an ideal fit for most work.

Not only have market conditions and actions by tech companies made it increasingly challenging to invest in longer-term projects, but a growing trend of bringing workers back into the office is also reshaping some expectations for the future of work. Excitement for immersive collaboration and virtual events has ebbed as companies request that employees work more days in the office and travel returns to pre-pandemic levels. This does not mean virtual collaboration is fading away, but the bar has been raised when it comes to introducing new features. Companies are demanding clearer Returns on Investment (ROIs), making metaverse-related announcements like virtual avatars in video conferencing feel less impactful than solutions that reduce cost or increase productivity/sales.

This is where announcements like AWS’ SimSpace Weaver rise to the surface as particularly intriguing, especially if it moves more simulations and digital twins to higher levels of complexities and broader coverage. NVIDIA, for example, has spoken about creating a simulation of the world, and SimSpace Weaver could be the first steps toward a future where simulations and digital twins will become more commonplace and achievable for more companies across verticals.

While seemingly unrelated, advancements made in the consumer space can and will impact what occurs within the enterprise arena and vice versa. Younger generations that view social platforms like ifland as their core outlets for social networking will carry these perspectives as they move into adulthood and enter the workforce. These individuals have a deeper comfort level and affinity for 3D experiences that both supports a Two-Dimensional (2D) to 3D shift and the metaverse at large—not unlike generations that grew up with access to the Internet. Stronger affinities to digital identities and avatars could create additional value for companies that embrace more immersive forms of communications and collaboration. These younger individuals will be entering the workplace within the next 5 to 10 years, and with them will come preferences that are being formed today. This makes market expansions by platforms like ifland and, eventually, Meta’s Horizon Worlds particularly impactful; similarly, companies like Sony and Adobe that are targeting content creators with 3D tools and solutions will help shift the creative markets to 3D as well.

Relatedly, as more companies embrace immersive tools for areas like training, onboarding, and corporate events/meetings this will increase comfort levels for these types of experiences and devices among users who fall within the latter portion of the adoption curve. All of these are incremental steps and building blocks toward the metaverse future.

Keep an Eye on the Future—Emphasize Value Today


It’s always easy to get lost in the grand visions of the future or to project what mass adoption of a new technology could look like. These sorts of trends, however, tend to develop at a more gradual pace as is the nature of adoption cycles. In some cases, users are not ready, the tech is underdeveloped, or key enabling tech is not yet in place—or, as is often the case, a combination of all three. There is an initial hype cycle with an uptick in adoption by early adopters, but often there is a subsequent slowing in the market as the initial hype wears down and industry moves toward maturity before the broader mainstream audience comes onboard.

The longer-term metaverse is certainly a prime example where users are not ready to take the plunge into the hybrid virtual/physical realm, the key tech (e.g., VR and Augmented Reality (AR) HMDs) and markets are not yet mainstream ready, and the enabling tech like ubiquitous ultra-low latency edge computing or intelligent networks is still coming downstream. This simply means the buildup toward a mainstream audience will take time and companies need to emphasize tools and applications that can augment and enhance today’s workflows with a pathway toward this more distant future. This is where Meta has fallen short. Rather than target younger audiences and broader device coverage (as SK Telecom has done), Meta took a more mainstream approach to its audience, but to date, has limited its metaverse platform to a device segment (VR) also in its early adoption cycle. While it is good to have products and solutions on the market, the company’s strategy is not particularly well-suited for where the metaverse is in its adoption cycle.

In other areas, immersive collaboration, for example, should shift from Zoom alternatives or fully virtual office/meeting spaces to enhancing existing workflows, rather than offering an alternative or replacement to these more traditional means. Using a virtual setting for corporate team building exercises is a better use of the tech than positioning these areas for full Communication and Collaboration (C&C) duties. These tools should also be used to target areas like customer service to provide a more personal touch than the all-too-common voice systems or chatbots.

3D content creation needs to receive more attention and exposure—not just to populate 3D spaces, but as a legitimate workflow to reduce costs and improve performance. Creating 3D assets to stand in for real products in ad shoots (to reduce costs) or using simulations and digital twins to monitor assets to improve maintenance scheduling are examples where more companies will be engaging in 3D workflows. Companies that have started down this pathway can then build toward expanded opportunities; for example, taking a more comprehensive approach to digital twins and simulations (e.g., across factories, supply chains, etc.). While larger companies have already embarked on these journeys, smaller companies will need to start migrating to these digital transformations as well.

Metaverse platforms, therefore, will need to support companies at all stages of their journeys and accommodate their preexisting set of partners and preferred vendors. Ultimately, the focus for the metaverse needs to show value today, augment and accelerate current trends, and then create a bridge to the longer-term future.