Let us take a break from the buzz around metaverse and find out what actually happened to the virtual reality/augmented reality (VR-AR) boom that got eyeballs a few years ago, as people began to experience real-world scenarios in three-dimension (3D) via wearable headsets.
Adopted by the gaming and entertainment sectors, AR-VR headsets once flooded malls and public places in India, and oval-shaped VR stations required kids to wear head-mounted devices (HMDs) to experience various immersive worlds, like car-racing or horror in the jungle.
However, the initial interest quickly vanished, and the last two years of the pandemic resulted in most of such VR outlets shutting down.’
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In the same period, smartphone adoption exploded and India alone now has more than 500 million users.
Despite arriving on the scene some six-seven years back, mass-level AR-VR impact is yet to be seen — both at the consumer and enterprise fronts — though things have slowly started picking up.
Amid the metaverse buzz, the worldwide market for AR/VR headsets grew a dramatic 92.1 per cent (year-over-year) in 2021 with shipments reaching 11.2 million units, according to the IDC.
However, “AR headsets continue to represent a small fraction of the overall AR/VR headset market and the volumes we do see are happening almost exclusively on the commercial side of the business,” said Tom Mainelli, group vice president, Device & Consumer Research at IDC.
Metaverse is no doubt driving hype and investment around AR and VR, and a host of adjacent technologies, “but we don’t expect this frothy behaviour to impact headset volumes any time soon”.
In the meantime, several reports emerged of users experiencing mental fatigue, headaches/eye strain, nausea and other health issues while wearing VR headsets.
Metaverse is now being touted as a next-level deep dive into the world of immersive experiences, in the ‘hybrid normal’ that will result in your virtual avatars traversing various settings like meetings in office, sun bathe at a beach or shopping at a mall, mimicking real life.
According to J.P. Gownder, VP, principal analyst, Forrester, despite the global hype, the metaverse which is the 3D experience layer of the Internet is not here yet.
“Metaverse hype has outpaced the interest of everyday people in the short run. Building the metaverse will take many years. The metaverse doesn’t even exist yet because of a lack of interoperability and portability of experiences,” Gownder told IANS.
For the metaverse to become a reality, it must support an immersive experience of interoperable and interlinked environments delivered via a variety of devices — from smartphones and VR headsets to other form factors not yet conceived.
“The enterprise segment will take up some metaverse precursor technologies sooner than the mass market of consumers,” said Gownder.
Late last month, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel criticised metaverse, saying the concept is “pretty ambiguous and hypothetical”, taking an obvious dig at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who has made big plans around metaverse by spending billions of dollars.
Meta is even opening its first retail store in the US on April 9 that will sell its AR-VR headset Quest 2, Quest 2 accessories and Portal smart video devices.
A Gartner report in February said that more than one-third of consumers (35 per cent) have never heard of metaverse.
Nearly 58 per cent of respondents had heard of metaverse but did not know what it means.
Only 6 per cent of people identified as being comfortable enough in their understanding of the metaverse to explain it to others. Nearly 21 per cent said they’re concerned about the impacts the metaverse might have.
“Contemplating metaverse is a luxury that most people don’t have time for currently,” said Kyle Rees, senior director and analyst at Gartner.
According to Prativa Mohapatra, Vice President and Managing Director, Adobe India, how much of experiences in the metaverse will people finally embrace is not clear at the moment as it is only a buzzword.
“In metaverse, we are now doing more interactions, meetings, visiting places and sightseeing etc. How much of this will people want to accept remains a question. However, for a distributed and hybrid workforce in the pandemic, collaborating in metaverse-style scenarios will only grow in importance,” Mohapatra told IANS.
Gownder said that the fully consumer experiences will take a longer amount of time to mature to the point where a mass market of people want to engage in them.
“Today, it remains mostly gamers and very young consumers who are spending significant time in virtual worlds,” he noted.
Single-vendor platform activations such as augmented or virtual worlds, gaming environments, and development tools are just metaverse precursors.
“The metaverse also requires regulatory standards, privacy codes of conduct, and inclusive and compelling user experience (UX) design,” Gownder emphasised.