Welcome to the (very-near) future: How the metaverse will change business
We may have only started hearing of the “metaverse” a few months ago, but it’s a quickly evolving space that is already promising to change how we work, live and play. The metaverse is a blanket term that is used to refer to the integration of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) into our daily lives, with early adopters claiming that it will change some industries fundamentally — including retail, sales, marketing, training, education and health. This expectation poses the questions: Which industries will the metaverse change and how — and how are businesses positioned to benefit?
There are things that we all know are going to be revamped by the metaverse: Meetings are on track to be transformed with VR, with most platforms allowing users to integrate VR users with non-VR users on the same call. Meta’s Horizon Workplace, which can be used with Facebook Messenger, is already being used by early adopters, and Zoom has announced that it will integrate with Horizon’s Workrooms early next year. We already know that the metaverse is making inroads in fashion, where digital-only clothing is gaining traction and is expected to fuel a push towards a more immersive experience in the fashion world. This immersion is also affecting retail, allowing consumers to try on clothes or experiment with product placement in their home using AR before having them delivered in the physical world.
But then there’s real estate, interior design, and sales and marketing: This includes realtors giving house tours in VR / AR, and for builders and interior designers to design virtually and allow potential customers to see the finished product before it's even built. Sales and marketing executives, on the other hand, can have warm tête-à-têtes with their clients without traveling thousands of miles (did we mention: Business travel is dying). Extended reality is also facilitating on-the-job training in a safe, contained environment for everyone from customer service agents to factory workers.
Extended reality is already gaining traction in education. VR and immersive learning is facilitating new ways of learning and teaching in classrooms, as are AR and MR. This includes replacing good-old fashioned dissection in biology, using VR to have students live through historical events, using AR to view constellations and planets, allowing students to interact with native speakers for language learning, and taking students on field trips to otherwise inaccessible or expensive places. This is particularly relevant with current travel restrictions, which are pushing more people to sightsee from the comfort of their own homes (or classrooms). In Egypt, GEMS has already signaled that VR and AR will be part of their learning programs.
Manufacturing processes are likely to be upended entirely: Companies are increasingly looking to integrate extended reality technologies into prototyping, designing and testing products. Late last year, Boeing announced that its future factories would employ 3D engineering, connecting mechanics via Microsoft HoloLens headsets with robots to create a digital ecosystem in an entirely new production system.
This tech could also make changes in healthcare systems: VR is being used to help veterans and victims of violence suffering from PTSD through VR exposure therapy, a behavioral treatment for PTSD and anxiety, allowing patients to immerse themselves in traumatic situations in a safe environment. In healthcare, VR has huge potential in providing an easy way for doctors to do tests and make mistakes without harming anyone, as well as potentially doing remote surgery.
In our personal lives, there’s fitness: Covid may have normalized working out from your living room, but the metaverse promises to be a real game changer. In AR, your coach could be training you in real-time in your living room or home gym, while in VR, your avatar can join fitness classes from the comfort of your home.
Gaming and fitness applications also make it possible for physical therapists to tailor and deliver telerehabilitation to patients. In addition to ensuring that patients remain motivated and engaged in their treatment between sessions, using VR for rehabilitation can help make physical therapy accessible to populations living far from treatment centers.
VR and AR could become a fixture of law enforcement and the military. VR has already been adopted by the British military, helping to prepare soldiers for combat through vehicle and flight simulations, virtual bootcamp and medic training on the battlefield. Extended reality is also being adopted in law enforcement for training in some areas of the US, while in China, AR glasses are already being combined with AI and facial recognition software to help highway inspectors and airport authorities identify suspects.
How imminent is this? First of all, the technology needs to be made accessible, which will only happen once more tech players get in the game. That means evolving the hardware (the headsets, data gloves and glasses) used for VR and AR, as well as the space itself with software and useful applications, and most importantly, migrating a population of people who want to “hang out” or do businesses virtually. Both Meta and Microsoft have their own headsets / glasses, and Apple is rumored to be releasing its first AR/VR headset later next year. Is it coming soon to a workplace near you? Likely, yes, although it will take years of investment to reap the long-term benefits of the metaverse.