With its promise to connect one billion people to the metaverse by 2030, it is clear Meta needs to accelerate, having so far sold less than 20 million devices. There are a number of reasons why it is behind on this target:
- Marketing efforts are too slow to grow the user base organically.
- Even though new use cases beyond games, such as fitness, are beginning to take off, and many companies are making millions in profit, most users are still younger and are already technology enthusiasts, which is not as diverse a population of users as is needed to bring the tech to a large user base.
- The perception of the general public is still that the metaverse represents just a cool new video game console.
This perception is about to change, and it will profoundly impact the video industry.
New headset, new target
Next week, on October 11th, a new headset will be released. It looks likely it will be named Meta Quest Pro. Numerous leaks have provided all the minor details of the device, but few know the company’s intentions yet.
One thing that is clear is that there will be a number of hardware improvements:
- High-quality color passthrough cameras for Mixed Reality.
- Eye and facial sensors to share your gestures and emotions through your avatar.
- Improved screen to increase text legibility.
- Improved ergonomics to allow for extended periods of usage.
- Better controllers enable you to use them like a pen on a whiteboard, even with tip pressure.
With this device, we are not looking at any significant technical improvements that make it worth the upgrade for existing VR enthusiasts, especially if the rumors are true about a 4-digit price range. Instead, the Meta Quest Pro is targeted at professionals, and will be the first VR device for many people. And, I’m not referring to industrial-level use cases we’ve seen with other immersive devices. I’m talking about people who use a computer and a whiteboard to work: in other words, you and I.
How would this work? Companies will buy the headset in bulk and pay for it. Why? Meta Quest Pro directly targets employees and their everyday workflows. It will be better than Zoom and cheaper than business travel. There is even the possibility that Meta, or other companies seizing the opportunity, will create leasing or bulk purchase opportunities.
Meta’s platform, Horizon Workrooms, allows people to interact as if they were sitting side by side. Spatial audio, face, and hand gestures trick you into having a regular conversation in the same room with your overseas colleagues. You can even bring your laptop and keyboard, share your screen, or write on a whiteboard. It is the ultimate remote collaboration tool. This platform is free for now, and I predict it will stay this way for a while to make the company transition as easy as possible. Its goal is not to make money from professional work, but from the potential it brings to the platform.
Horizon Workrooms – Remote Collaboration Reimagined
A virtual foot in the door
Imagine all these millions of people who have never used a VR device before having the new Quest Pro at home because their upper management has decided it will help teams collaborate. The new VR owners will wonder, what more can I do with this device? First, they will try some casual games or fitness experiences. For example, I have the Oculus Quest 2 at home, and I introduced Beat Saber to my wife one day. In this game, you need to slash flying cubes following the rhythm of the music. It is both fun and keeps you active. She is far from a gamer, but she immediately became a fan and started playing continuously. One day she purchased the new Lady Gaga playlist inside the game for about US$10 using the Meta in-app purchases. She would have never bought the “VR console” by herself, but now that it was at home, she doesn’t mind buying content that entertains her. If Quest 2 is making people pay for individual music albums again, imagine what it can do in the video industry.
Playing the games available on the platform won’t be enough. People will begin to ask themselves: “Why can’t I watch the Superbowl or F1 in this thing? Why can’t I watch this new TV show and feel dragged into their world?”. And there is a simple answer: video providers are still reluctant to invest because they lack a big enough user base. With this new headset, Meta is aiming to increase these numbers dramatically. Meanwhile, video companies have an opportunity, by investing now, to establish themselves as industry innovators.
The video industry beyond video
I am continually asked by video companies how they can start their immersive strategy and whether it is worth it now. I always tell them that there are two ways to invest. The first obvious, but complicated way is producing immersive content native to this platform, 360-VR video, and holographic capture. Immersive video productions are costly today and require coordination between the content creators and the distributors. In my opinion, it might take 2-3 years to have sports being produced for VR and maybe 5-6 years to have non-sport content native to immersive platforms. Apple might change this timing, but this is for another article.
The always undervalued fact is that we don’t need expensive 360 videos or holograms to create an engaging experience on a mixed reality headset. A more cost-efficient approach that video companies could take is to launch a platform where people can watch their traditional 2D videos with some extra functionality. For example, in sports, we can have a large screen surrounded by multi-cameras, summoned replays, interactive stat panels, social feeds, and whatever you can imagine. All of that could be enjoyed together with your friends, or with other fans. These would be the first steps before extending the experience and monetizing beyond video.
Transforming viewers into visitors
As the metaverse gains traction, video companies will be adding more complex and engaging experiences to their video application each step along the way until, who knows, maybe people will join to do everything except for watching video. For instance, perhaps branded spaces to feel like you are in The Lord of the Rings universe? Sponsored casual games like pinball to entertain you while you wait for the new season of your favorite TV show, buying a new football jersey in a 3D store with merchandising, and doing a virtual tour of your favorite team’s stadium while on the other side of the world.
Imagining these virtual worlds or metaverses can make our heads spin, but how do we get there? The simple experience with a flat screen and some stats panels described above may look too simplistic, however first steps are more important than long leaps. The iPhone UX was not built in a day. It takes time for people to get used to new platforms and value what they can provide to them. When the first iPhone came out, people laughed at the idea of watching videos on such small screens while having a TV at home. “Watching on the go? Impossible!” We simply didn’t have the technology to stream video at this scale back then. Look at the progress since then. What we can imagine now is probably far from what people will create in the years to come.
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