In the 1990s, Microsoft had a stranglehold monopoly in the Information Technology (IT) industry by controlling the operating system market of the PC industry. Then Google came along, disrupted Microsoft’s business model and rendered Microsoft’s monopoly irrelevant by making the Web the focal point instead.
Today, we have apps, web browsers, devices and Web 2.0 standards. Do you notice one thing?
Facebook, which is owned by Meta, is residing on rented land. Most people access Facebook through their devices as an app. The platform of the devices are owned by Google (Android), Apple (iOS, iPadOS) and Microsoft (Windows).
As I wrote here, by residing on rented land, Facebook is at the mercy of Apple because it has to play by Apple’s rules (e.g. App Tracking Transparency). Similarly, on the Android platform, Facebook has to play by Google’s rules.
But Mark Zuckerberg has a plan to turn the tables against Apple, Google and even Microsoft. He has a dream and he is betting the entire future of Meta on this dream. Make no mistake, if it becomes a reality, it is going to disrupt the business model of Google, Apple and Microsoft. If this dream becomes successful, it will be the turn of Google, Apple and Microsoft to till on rented land (metaverse) owned by Meta.
Google, Apple and Microsoft know that. That is why they are pouring billions into the metaverse as well. They know that if Meta gets there first, that will spell the end of their business model. They simply cannot cede the first mover’s advantage to Meta. But the trick is that they cannot call their destination the “metaverse”. The “metaverse” is a term that contains the name of their rival- Meta. Even calling it the “metaverse” implies that they are ceding the leadership position to Meta. Therefore, Google is calling their metaverse dream “ambient computing”. Apple is rumoured to call the operating system of their metaverse “realityOS”. Microsoft’s marketing department will come up with another name for their “metaverse” dream.
What on earth is the “metaverse”?
Be clear about this: the metaverse is more than just Virtual Reality (VR). If you think metaverse is synonymous with VR, you are missing the whole point.
The metaverse is the intertwining, weaving, blending and integration of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and reality into a seamless continuity from one to another. Technology will fade into the background (in the form of a network of interconnected, embedded and unnoticeable smart devices) and you will interact with it implicitly using natural communication methods (e.g. gestures, voice and thought).
Apps will exist in 3-D space
We are used to apps existing on two-dimensional screens. In the metaverse, apps will exist in three dimensions, in the forms of VR/AR rendering or holograms. Traditionally, we interact with 2D apps through touch (on the touchscreen), keyboard and mouse. In the metaverse, you will interact with the same apps through natural gestures, voice and even thought. It doesn’t matter if you interact with these apps in VR, AR or reality. Technology will be developed to make it convenient for you. For example, you will see WhatsApp in the form of a 3D hologram, and sensors will detect your hand movements, voice and thoughts as input to the app. Even when you put on a VR headset or AR glass, you will still be able to interact with the same 3D version of WhatsApp. In other words, 3D interactive WhatsApp will follow you wherever you go, whether in VR, AR or reality.
Virtual objects and media will occupy the same 3-D space
Next, it will not be just apps that exist in 3D forms. Books, videos, media and objects will also exist in the metaverse. You can teleport all of them between VR, AR and reality. You can buy and sell any virtual items and bring them with you everywhere in the metaverse.
Ultimately, your entire physical body can be represented as realistically as possible, with deep fidelity and detail, in VR, AR and reality in the form of an avatar. You can buy and attach objects to your avatar. For example, you can buy the most beautiful clothes in the metaverse and virtually try them on your avatar. Every minute movement you make in the physical reality will be replicated in your avatar, down to every muscle on your face when you make a facial expression. Even the virtual clothes you wear on your avatar will show every detail of creases and folds as you physically move any part of your body.
Teleporting your presence
We all understand about using Zoom to transmit a video image of you to another screen in another part of the world.
The metaverse is going to go beyond that. It will teleport your ‘presence’ to anywhere in the world. To do that, it will have to convey more than just a video image of you.
Advanced algorithms and sensors in hardware will reconstruct the physical reality of your body into the metaverse. When you move in the physical world, it will also move exactly in the metaverse in real-time. With a VR headset, you can physically move around and look at another photo-realistic avatar in 3D in real-time. The avatar can be mimicking another real person on the other side of the world. Alternatively, if you take off your VR headset, the avatar representing another can be projected next to you in the form of a hologram.
Machines will read your mind
Today, when you use a smart TV, you need to aim an input device at the TV before pressing a button. Even when you play sports games in front of a smart TV, you have to stand in front of the sensors so that any physical movements can be translated into actions in the game.
In the metaverse, you don’t have to do that. All you need to do is to look at the smart TV and tell it to turn on and it will happen.
As technology progresses, it will seem that machines will be able to read your mind and obey your wishes and thoughts. Although the technology to read your mind will be a long way off, research into Electromyography (EMG) will eventually result in the development of “neural-motor” sensors that can translate imperceptible physical movements into commands. This is as close to ‘mind reading’ as it can get.
Sensations and smells will be teleported as well
So far, the metaverse will teleport your visual presence from one end of the world to another. But eventually, sensations and smells will also be teleported as well. You can virtually touch someone a continent away and he/she will feel it in his/her skin. The current technology to do that is special haptic feedback suits. But somehow, it still feels clumsy. Maybe eventually a less intrusive technology will be developed soon?
Also, today there exists technology to encode smells into data and be artificially synthesized remotely.
To put it simply, the metaverse is going to allow you to share all five senses with other people remotely. It is going to bring the whole idea of ‘presence’ to a new level.
How will Meta boot out Google, Apple and Microsoft?
We are all familiar with the concept of websites. You enter an URL in your web browser’s address bar and go to any website you want. With the rise of Web 2.0, as more and more computing functionality migrated to the web, the operating system became less and less relevant. The focal point of technology migrated from applications (running on the computer) to powerful web-based applications (running on the web browser). The operating system mattered less and less while the web browser mattered more and more. Today, websites are behaving like applications, which means web browsers are behaving like the ‘operating systems’ of the past.
That is how, 20 years ago, Microsoft’s business model got disrupted by Google.
With the metaverse, a similar shift is going to occur. Applications, virtual objects, avatars and digital media are going to exist in each implementation of the metaverse. Each implementation of the metaverse is akin to the websites of today. In the metaverse, ‘computers’ or ‘devices’ are going to disappear into the background. Instead, of interacting with computers and devices explicitly using a keyboard, mouse or touch, you will interact implicitly with technology (that exists in the form of an environment of embedded smart devices), using the natural communication methods of voice, gestures and thoughts. For example, you will simply look at your smart TV and say “Turn On”, and it will obey your command. You will bring your presence and everything virtual item you own (e.g. applications, virtual objects, avatars, digital media) from one implementation of the metaverse to another the same way you surf from website to website today. Using the technology of the blockchain, everything you own virtually, from digital objects (e.g. digital trinkets, virtual clothing, digital art), to software applications and digital media (e.g. books, movies, music) will exist in the form of NFTs. Therefore, they will be portable across different implementations of the metaverses.
In such an environment, the devices, computers and web browsers will become less and less relevant. Instead of surfing the web, you will be surfing the metaverse.
This is how Meta is going to disrupt the business models of Google, Apple and Microsoft. As Google the search engine became the portal to websites and powerful web applications, Meta will become the portal to metaverses. Instead of conducting commerce, entertainment and work on websites and powerful web applications using the web browser, you will be doing the same on metaverses, using a network of smart devices (e.g. VR headset, AR glasses, holograms, smart Internet-of-Things embedded in everyday appliances).
What is Meta doing right now?
They and their partners are busy creating a whole new world of content on the metaverses. They are busy creating digital objects, artwork, clothing, accessories, avatars, buildings, homes, parks, scenery, land, games, media, music, movies, books and so on, in the metaverses. They are working hard to make the metaverse an extremely compelling environment. Everything on the metaverses can be bought and sold, where ownership titles exist as NFTs on the blockchain. The metaverse will have an economy of its own. There’s going to be ‘money’ to be made. The ‘money’ may not even be the national currencies that we know of. Instead, it will be cryptocurrencies.
How will other industries be disrupted?
One of the major concepts of the metaverse is the idea of “teleporting“.
Of course, the science-fiction concept of teleporting, where you are physically moved from one part of the universe to another, will not be a reality for quite a long time. But the metaverse is going to bring this concept as close as you can get, virtually.
In the metaverse, your presence will be ‘teleported’ digitally to another physical location. If Zoom conferencing reduced the need for physical travel, virtual teleporting is going to reduce the need even further.
So, what will become of the travel industry? Will people skip physical travel to reunite with their loved ones and opt for virtual teleporting to meet each other instead? Although you can argue that nothing beat physical meetups, there is no denying that the all-of-senses technology of virtual teleporting will have some effect on the demand for physical travel, therefore affecting the travel industry in some ways. Already, web-conferencing (e.g. Zoom, Teams, FaceTime) has reduced the appetite for travel. My bet is that virtual teleporting is going to further erode the appetite for travel.
So, industries like airlines will be affected by the metaverse.
If Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse vision succeeds, existing software and apps will likely have to be rewritten for the metaverse. For starters, we will see Meta releasing WhatsApp and Instagram for the metaverse.
The problem with digital media nowadays is that they are not portable across platforms. For example, movies that you already bought on Apple TV cannot be brought across to Amazon Prime, or Disney+. Books that you bought on Apple Books cannot be brought across to Amazon Kindle. Your music playlist on Apple Music cannot be brought across to Spotify.
The metaverse is going to solve this problem. Digital media that you own will exist in the form of NFTs. Once it exists as an NFT, it will be portable across different metaverses.
In subjects like history, the metaverse is going to be very helpful. Instead of learning history as a series of facts printed on 2D paper or multimedia presentations on the screen, you will be able to fully immerse yourself in the ancient world. The metaverse can artificially recreate almost all the full sensory experiences of the ancient world. It will be as close to a time machine as you can get. You can explore the ancient world as if you were there physically. With the help of linguists, you can even hear the recreated sounds of ancient languages.
The metaverse is a work in progress. The final implementation of the metaverse is still subject to change, depending on the development and viability of technologies, economics, consumer choice and cyber-safety concerns.
Whether you see Mark Zuckerberg’s vision as a dystopia or utopia, you can be sure of one thing: all the Big Tech companies (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Tencent, etc) are going to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the metaverse in the next 10 years. Even if you are horrified by the idea of the metaverse, do not underestimate the ability of Big Tech to make the metaverse an extremely compelling and irresistible environment to hang out in. With hundreds of billions of dollars going to be poured into this sector collectively by every Big Tech company, and partner companies wanting to make money creating and selling virtual content for the metaverse, the lure is going to be extremely strong.
Personally, I have some reservations about the metaverse. We will see how Mark Zuckerberg’s vision pan out.
What are your thoughts?