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Microsoft jumps on the metaverse bandwagon with immersive video calling and 3D spaces

This announcement comes days after Facebook announced its corporate rebranding to emphasise its focus on the metaverse.

A Microsoft building

“It’s no longer just looking at camera view of a factory floor. You can be on the floor. It’s no longer just video conferencing with colleagues. You can be with them in the same room,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on November 2 announcing the company’s plans for the metaverse.

At an event called Microsoft Ignite, the company revealed its efforts to build for the metaverse, including Mesh, an immersive space within Microsoft Teams that lets you interact with avatars of colleagues in a 3D environment.

Microsoft’s announcement comes days after Facebook announced its corporate rebranding to Meta to represent its focus on the metaverse. If the priorities of big tech companies are any indication, the metaverse might just be the “successor to the internet,” even if we don’t fully understand it yet.

Microsoft announces workplace tools focused on the metaverse

“The metaverse enables shared experiences across both the physical and digital worlds,” Microsoft said in a blog post outlining how the company understands the concept. Here are two products Microsoft has announced for the metaverse:

  • Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces: This product will allow organisations to use and analyse ‘observational data’ at a physical location. As an example, with cameras pointed at the entry of a store, the software will be able to collect statistics related to footfall. Microsoft will make Connected Spaces available for preview in December this year.

    Dynamic 365 Connected Spaces can be used to measure footfall. Image Credits: Microsoft

     

  • Mesh for Microsoft Teams:  “Now, everyone in a meeting can be present without being physically present using personalized avatars and immersive spaces that can be accessed from any device, with no special equipment needed.” Microsoft said while announcing its new 3D video-conferencing tool. Mesh will be released in 2022.

    Preview of Mesh. Image Courtesy: Microsoft

What is the metaverse all about?

The metaverse is being touted as “the next evolution of social connection” and “successor to the internet,” but what exactly is the metaverse?

History of the term: The term metaverse was first coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 dystopian science fiction novel Snow Crash in which avatars of humans interact with each other and software agents in a 3D space. While Microsoft’s products sound very similar, the company was desperate to clarify that their usage of the term ‘metaverse’ does not come from Snow Crash.

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Where does it come from, then? Microsoft defines the metaverse as “a persistent, digital world that is connected to many aspects of the physical world, including people, places and things.”

The metaverse enables shared experiences across both the physical and digital worlds. As enterprises accelerate their digital transformation, the metaverse can help people meet up in a digital environment, make meetings more comfortable with the use of avatars and facilitate creative collaboration from all around the world. — Microsoft

For Microsoft, the metaverse is all about meetings and presentations with digital avatars, but critics argue that the concept is much broader than that. You can read our deep dive into the metaverse to fully understand everything that the term stands for.

Interesting takes on big tech’s metaverse announcements

After announcements from Facebook and Microsoft regarding the metaverse, key commentators have poked fun at big tech’s flawed understanding of the metaverse. Here are a few interesting takes:

  • Matthew Ball: The term ‘metaverse’ was first popularised by Matthew Ball in a highly influential blog post in January 2020. Ball criticised Microsoft’s attempts to define the Metaverse on Twitter.

    • Shaan Puri: Founder and investor Shaan Puri also took to Twitter to explain his theory of the metaverse, according to which it is a moment in time when “our digital life is worth more to us than our physical life.”

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