Real vision

There’s more to the metaverse than hype

Real vision

Even if you aren’t a tech fundi, you will have heard about Apple’s new Vision Pro headset, a mixed-reality device capable of both virtual and augmented reality experiences, which the company released in June to much fanfare. You may have heard about the price tag – $3 500 a set – which is hefty, let’s be honest. You’ll also probably have heard about the lack of a killer app or use case. What on earth will we do with it? Beyond gaming of course. There’s also been criticism about the design, wearability and everything else. Equally, there has been praise

Personally, I’d be cautious about dismissing anything Apple launches, even if this is the first new product to be released by the current CEO Tim Cook rather than the late, great Steve Jobs. Jobs had an uncanny knack of identifying what customers wanted – often before they knew it themselves. Under his watch Apple was not a pioneer, often entering a market once other companies had laid the groundwork, as it did with PCs and phones, or without a real use case, as with the Apple watch. But when it entered a market, it did it with intent, marketing muscle and with masterfully engineered products. That’s why I hesitate to dismiss the Vision Pro.

What do the marketing boffs at Apple see that we don’t? I think the answer lies with the metaverse. Yes, there is no question the term – still loosely defined and difficult to categorise – is in a hype cycle. But, like Apple’s headset, it’s something investors should pay attention to, rather than dismiss. At its simplest, a metaverse is an environment that can simulate real-life experiences and interactions at a level that makes it indistinguishable from reality. There is no single ‘place’, but rather many metaverses created by different entities, each with its own separate access, creative landscape and technical specifications. I’d never heard the term until Mark Zuckerberg announced he was changing his company’s name (and focus) to Meta in 2021. Apparently, the term was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel, Snow Crash. Depending on whom you ask, the metaverse is either the promising next frontier of the internet or the most over-hyped phenomenon since the launch of PRIME Hydration (the R400 energy drink launched by YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI). Yet while we’ve all been distracted by the hype and promise of AI, virtual worlds have quietly been transforming.

Initially limited to entertainment or gaming platforms, they have become more immersive, interactive and social, thanks to next-generation hardware and increased computing power. Also, COVID-19 accelerated our shift to digital lives. People are more comfortable working, shopping and socialising at home and online. In turn, businesses are coming to recognise the value of using virtual worlds to interact with (dare I say younger) customers and enhance their brand image. Fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Dior and Zara have opened virtual storefronts where customers can browse and buy their ranges. Companies, including Nike and Coca-Cola, have created games or experiences that promote their products within virtual worlds. Tech giants such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google have all made significant investments in VR technology and are develop-ing their own VR platforms. Tencent, Epic Games (which developed Fortnite), Roblox and Activision Blizzard (which developed Candy Crush and Call of Duty and are now owned by Microsoft) have invested billions developing gaming platforms. But the metaverse’s potential is not confined to games or e-commerce.

Harvard Business Review suggests that the metaverse could reshape the world of work in several ways – new immersive forms of team collaboration; the emergence of new digital, AI-enabled colleagues; the acceleration of learning and skills acquisition through virtualisation and gamified technologies; and the eventual rise of a metaverse economy with completely new enterprises and work roles.

It’s difficult to imagine all the use cases, and certainly the idea of a world where hybrid and digital coexist with a full-fledged economy has yet to be realised. I’m not even sure I like the idea. But it is an environment that is developing, and whether we can imagine ourselves wearing the Vision Pro or not, we can take advantage of the investment opportunities available now. And that is all we need to be paying attention to.

By Sasha Planting