Griffin on Tech: Powerpoint in the Metaverse?
Hard on the heels of Facebook's rebranding of Meta, comes Microsoft promising to give us digital avatars for Teams meetings and entire virtual worlds to hold our business meetings in.
The reactions to the two tech giants laying out their vision for the Metaverse in the last week were notably different. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was mercilessly mocked in internet memes, the company's growth at all costs mentality leaving many sceptical it can be trusted building a vastly more immersive world for us to inhabit.
The reaction to Microsoft's showcase of the Metaverse was gentler, more bemused condescension. Many see it as a legacy software player scrambling to reinvent itself on the hot new platform of the future. But Microsoft has massive interests in video gaming with Xbox and knows a thing or two about augmented reality after developing the HoloLens headset.
It also has 250 million active users of its Teams collaboration and conferencing platform and the advantage of being the default software provider to the majority of medium and large businesses. While Facebook last week touted Horizon Workplaces, its VR-driven conferencing product, it hasn't much of a chance against Microsoft when it comes to compelling people to work in the metaverse.
Trust in Facebook/Meta is already rock bottom - why would anyone plug their Outlook accounts and sensitive Microsoft 365 content into Meta's Metaverse? I really don't see it happening. Microsoft, therefore, has an opportunity to make big strides in the Metaverse next year, when it uses its Microsoft Mesh platform to bring more immersive and interactive elements to its products. But it will face a host of other competitors, some of them teaming up to create an enterprise Metaverse populated by Salesforce, Slack, AWS and others.
While Meta touts its Metaverse as available via any screen or device, it has gone big on virtual reality because it owns the headset maker Oculus. The fact remains however that VR is still pretty horrible to use for any length of time. Microsoft on the other hand is starting off with digital avatars in Teams meetings that listen for our voice and talk in real-time like little cartoon characters. That's a way to ease us into it.
It could eventually see us donning VR headsets to inhabit a digital twin of our workplace to hold meetings with colleagues, complete with virtual Powerpoint presentations. I'm sure HoloLens will feature too, though the high cost of those headsets mainly sees them used for specialist applications. For some people, a virtual world populated in Teams is their worst nightmare. But let's face it, after endless Teams meetings and staring at my email inbox and Word documents over the last 18 months of remote work, I'm up for exploring a new way of working, one that's more visually stimulating and cuts through the endless screens and searching for information.
Welcome to a Teams meeting in the Metaverse
Facebook has more of a chance with the Instagrammers, gamers and social media users who have stayed sticky on its platforms despite - and maybe because of, the company's dubious social engineering tactics.
Away from the tech giants, Metaverse blockchain and token-based ventures rocketed in value this week. Suddenly everyone is talking about the Metaverse even if, as I wrote over at BusinessDesk this week, there are huge question marks remaining over how it will work technically, how interoperable it will be and who will ultimately have the most control over it.
Now is the time to think through those questions very carefully so that the next iteration of the internet and the web 3.0 technologies we will increasingly be using, are fit for purpose, open and equitable.
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