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Meta works to speed up metaverse, but success far from certain

A year after Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, the social network titan aims to make the metaverse a routine part of everyday life, offering users new features and promoting new virtual reality gear.

But analysts say the company has toned down the hype a bit as it struggles to meet its goal of creating an interactive virtual world it sees as the next stage of online activity.

The biggest announcement from this week’s Meta Connect event – the company’s annual conference focused on virtual reality – was the launch of the highly anticipated Meta Quest Pro VR headset, aimed at professionals in the creative field.

But there were also legs – as in, legs for user avatars in Meta’s Horizon World virtual realm, as well as facial expressions.

Is this the future? The company says yes.

“The metaverse will sneak up on us,” predicted Mark Rabkin, vice president of Meta Reality Labs.

“I think it’s going to feel really far away and then there’s going to be certain pockets and niches that are suddenly really useful — and then we’re going to realize the holes… get smaller, and suddenly it’s here.”

For Rabkin, executives can save time and money by meeting in the metaverse, and performers can embrace virtual venues for concerts, comedy shows, and other entertainment.

Bridges, skyscrapers, shoes and more can be designed in 3D using digital tools in the metaverse.

“We’re building things that power the metaverse and will be part of the metaverse,” Rabkin said.

“We’re investing heavily to push the future a little bit forward.”

– Smiles and nods –

A year ago, Facebook renamed itself Meta to signify its commitment to a metaverse future.

In one small step on that path, the $1,500 Quest Pro headset — aimed at architects, engineers, and designers among others — offers new features intended to improve users’ perception of actually being in the presence of others.

“The moment they start to smile or when they raise their eyebrows…your avatar should be able to express all that and more,” Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg told Meta Connect.

The company said it is working with Microsoft, Adobe, Accenture and others to synchronize popular work software with virtual worlds using Quest Pro.

“At Microsoft, we are incredibly excited about the metaverse and how digital and physical worlds come together,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during the presentation.

Microsoft is really leaning towards making its widely used productivity software, as well as tools built for its own HoloLens augmented reality headset, compatible with Quest Pro, Rabkin said.

Zuckerberg emphasized that Meta wants its VR platform to match offerings from other companies.

“Not only will our stuff be running on different devices, not ours, but there will inevitably be multiple universes connected in different ways,” Rabkin explains.

The technical advancements built into Quest Pro are expected to eventually feed into cheaper headsets aimed at the average consumer.

– Dealing with the hype –

Zuckerberg was quoted by tech news website The Verge as saying he didn’t expect the metaverse to bring the company any meaningful amount of money for years to come, creating a “valley of disillusionment.”

For Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi, Meta has emphasized the hype of the metaverse in favor of talking more about the nuts and bolts of how it will work.

“I assume it’s because they figured out how hard it is to actually make this stuff in terms of actually creating that world,” Milanesi told AFP.

Companies are investing billions of dollars in building blocks of the metaverse, with Meta leading the way, VRDirect director Rolf Illenberger told AFP.

Microsoft, Sony and HTC are among the players, and it is rumored that Apple is planning to release its own virtual reality headset.

“On the one hand, Mark Zuckerberg must be recognized as a hero, as a visionary, because he pushes the industry like no other,” Illenberger said.

“But on the other hand, its bad reputation also puts the blame on the metaverse as a technology to some extent.”

Critics have said Facebook’s rebranding as Meta was a step to distance the tech company from scandals, including a whistleblower who said profit was more important than user safety.

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