Many people believe the next evolution of computing will be a revolution that transports areas of our personal and work lives into the “metaverse”. Communicating via our avatars will feel as natural as a Zoom call does today, and we will spend large amounts of time in these new worlds building relationships, consuming content, getting work done and spending digital money in an entirely new economy. If that sounds a bit far-fetched, imagine reading an article about the internet in the early 1990’s… big companies are backing this future too with Chief Metaverse Officer roles popping up at practically every significant tech company, and the stats show that the AR marketplace is predicted to be worth $60 billion in 2023 and $100 billion by 2024, split across both enterprise and consumer markets.
But hold up, lets get some definitions in first:
Augmented Reality (AR)
AR describes a world like the now infamous Google Glass presented in 2013. The visible natural world is overlaid with a layer of digital content.
Mixed Reality (MR)
MR combined elements of VR and AR, mixing the physical world with the digital and crucially allowing objects in each world to interact with each other.
Virtual Reality (VR)
VR aims to place a user in another location entirely, this could be a CGI location or a video but it occludes the user's natural surroundings completely.
Extended Reality (XR)
An honourable mention to the term “Extended Reality” which acts as an umbrella term for all technology that alters reality with digital elements.
Okay, so now we’ve got the basics covered, let's talk about how these concepts could change every aspect of our lives in the near future. We’ll use the term AR frequently, but there is so much blend between the various definitions of XR that we can view AR as a fairly general term.
Try before you buy! Imagine looking for new shoes, a new dress or even a sofa… simply holding up your camera to your feet could overlay those new shoes to your current perspective. Hop in front of a mirror to see the dress overlaid in the exact size, or scan your room with precise measurements to see exactly how that new sofa will fit in. Many retailers have already implemented this technology into their systems including IKEA, their AR view is built into the native IKEA app and takes advantage of LiDAR sensors now featured in many smartphones. Download any of these apps right now and take a look through your phone screen, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your brain adapts to assume the digital objects are really there and quite confused that they are not when you pull your phone down.
AR has a huge potential to revolutionise the education sector, transporting learners to entirely new environments with their teachers being able to see & relate to their exact perspective. AR overlays on the real world can help students visualise projects or navigate environments, like museums giving them additional information overlays. Sunday Treat has already produced an educational 360 VR film for the incredible children's charity Action for Children in which we transported the viewer into the eye's of a young person navigating a potentially traumatic experience. This immersive format made viewers take the project far more seriously and helped them understand the perspective of the young person with a potentially far greater emotional connection than if we had produced the project via traditional methods.
The practical applications of both VR and AR in gaming are huge, and present potentially the most obvious sector to grow quickly in 2023. VR gaming is already a big industry with headsets like Meta’s Quest 2 outselling the Xbox Series X this year, and games like Beatsaber show provable returnability. AR can mean a multitude of different things, but one popular application was Pokemon Go’s breakout success in 2016. With Apple’s LiDAR sensors littering millions of devices across the world and their headset just around the corner, it could be in 2023 that we see a game changer breakout like this when a developer lands on the right concept to utilise the technology.
VR and AR are already important training tools in the Healthcare industry, primarily in training and R&D, but eventually with applications like surgeons operating equipment remotely. When fused with AI and historic databases of patients, VR and AR have a huge amount of potential here.
“Metaverse” is a far reaching term that is yet to be truly defined in the public consciousness, but in 2023 it can be defined as the next iteration of the internet: a virtual overlay of the real world where different 3D visualisation systems are connected and talking to each other. We don’t yet know if this will manifest itself as a decentralised Web3 metaverse (a topic for another blog) where users & creators have control of their own blockchain, Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of a singularly moderated metaverse or a different set of metaverse standards working alongside each-other similar to the relationship with iOS and Android. Whatever the outcome, it is inevitable that commerce will be a hugely important part of this future with NFT goods being exchanged, items like avatar “skins”, virtual clothing, vehicles, art and land could all be part of this future. Companies like Atari, Samsung and Adidas have already spent millions buying virtual land in platforms like Decentraland and the Sandbox, but it is currently unclear who will be the platform winner here and how different metaverses will interact with each other.
What’s holding this all up, then? Why are we not all living out our Ready Player One fantasies? Well, primarily the technology advancements; VR headsets like the Meta Quest 2 are still bulky, low resolution and relatively expensive. Progress is happening quickly though and Meta’s Quest Pro signifies a big leap for MR and the future of work, but it is still prohibitively expensive for your average user with some serious software concerns and it will take many more iterations for VR headsets to become truly mainstream. In 2023, Apple is heavily rumoured to release their AR/ MR headset, which could be a game changer utilising their huge user base and it’s likely that their software applications will tie in well with their current LiDAR devices on most iPhones, allowing cross compatibility between people with headsets and without.
For AR and the Metaverse to truly take off, it’s up to the tech companies to build interesting propositions that encourage consumers to get on board, we will be the winners in this as competing technology, platforms and standardisations fight it out in the battle for the next evolution of the internet. At Sunday Treat, we will be following the technological and cultural evolutions closely and adapting our content to thrive in these new worlds.