The Metaverse—it’s a concept we’ve heard about a bunch of times over the last year, but what the heck is the Metaverse? Time for a quick history lesson and recap.
So, the term ‘metaverse’ first appeared in Neil Stevenson’s 1982 novel Snow Crash. It pretty much describes a virtual space where people go to escape a dreary totalitarian reality. Easy enough, right? Now let’s go a little deeper.
The modern vision of the Metaverse is essentially a virtual world without limit. It’s an immersive virtual experience in which participants go to to play games, work, visit friends and family, and basically do everything they want to and then some. Basically, it’s Ready Player One, but for real real.
That sounds pretty epic if you ask me. Now the current iterations of the metaverse that exist are not exactly at the level of Ready Player One, but hey, there’s some promising stuff out there.
Now to access ‘The Metaverse’ at present, you’ll at least need some kind of device with internet access. But if you really want the proper experience, it’s pretty much a VR headset like an Oculus that you’ll be wanting.
Is that it though? Strap on a headset, live in the metaverse, do cool stuff, repeat? Seems like a lot of projects like Meta think this is one possible approach, but another potentially more promising avenue exists, and it’s something Meta isn’t ignoring either—Augmented Reality, otherwise known as AR.
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality
OK, so as promised, let’s break down Augmented Reality (AR) and its, uh, ‘counterpart’ Virtual Reality (VR).
Augmented reality is just that: reality, but with extra fun stuff. Snapchat filters are a perfect example—sure, they’re not all that complex, but adding kitty ears to your head? AR. Blurring out all your pores and looking like a Renaissance-era cherub with a skin condition? AR.
According to Statista , Snapchat has gone from 46 million users in Q1 of 2014 to 332 million users in Q1 of 2022. In just 8 years, Snapchat’s userbase has increased eightfold, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Guess what? Augmented Reality is already a big deal. Ha!
Of course, the potential applications for AR are, truly limitless. You could walk into an empty room, put on a pair of glasses and see and even interact with a fully-3D rendered world that only exists via the wearable technology you use.
Don’t think that’s possible? Well, Pokemon GO , which came out six years ago, is arguably the most successful Pokemon game of all time that made use of Augmented Reality tech (albeit rather simple). Think it’s a craze that died out? Nope, according to The Verge , in 2019, Pokemon GO had a record year, raking in a whopping $900 million through in-app purchases. And if you think that’s it, well—I’ll take a bet that in a few years, $900 million will be chump change in hindsight.
Clearly AR is alive and well, and it’s not going away. Not on your life.
And How About VR?
Virtual Reality (VR) has been around for decades—many would probably say it began somewhere around the mid 80s, but others say VR, or at least the idea for it, began as far back as the late 50s. Heck, humanity’s fascination with reality goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks—but uh, let’s just go with the late 50s, shall we?
You could argue that video games or even the internet is a form of virtual reality (or a precursor to it). The thing with VR though is that it’s pretty much fully immersive, meaning you put on a headset, hold a controller or put on some gloves and pretty much inhabit a 3D rendered world almost indistinguishable from our own. Think Free Guy or Ready Player One, and you’re more or less on track.
Now the question is, ‘How popular is Virtual Reality?’ Well, in a recent Techjury , there are allegedly 171 million VR users worldwide. Now in the grand scheme of things, that’s not all that much, but it’s hardly a small number—let’s say 2% of the world’s population. Is this number set to rise? Based on the growing interest in VR, AR and the Metaverse, you can bet on it.
Why the disparity between VR and AR? Primarily accessibility and affordability really. A smartphone with access to Snapchat and Snow is much easier to come by than an Oculus headset. Having said this, with more interest in VR and new solutions being created, interest and access to VR is sure to rise in the near future.
One thing about VR though: just make sure you have enough room and that you don’t forget where you are!
Shaping the Metaverse
Meta, Microsoft and VIVE recently showcased their Metaverses to the masses. To fully participate in these mesmerizing worlds you’ll need to cop yourself one of those fancy Virtual Reality headsets like the Meta Quest 2 or a HTC Vive which will set you back a few hundred bucks, but let me tell you—it’s totally worth it!
Virtual Reality appears to be the main gateway to the Metaverse right now, companies such as Meta have made it simple for people to snap up a headset and jump straight in to whatever you desire (I’m watching you!) whether it be attending a work meeting or perhaps going to a comedy club. There is an endless amount to do inside the Metaverse.
However it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Regardless of how much fun it may entail, being in the Metaverse requires you to be stuck in a headset for hours on end, which can get uncomfortable and perhaps unhealthy! Many loathe the idea of the Metaverse as they believe it will take over the physical world and everyone will be stuck in headsets all day everyday.
And well, they’re not wrong! If you’ve seen Ready Player One, there’s a damn good chance of that happening.
In comes Augmented Reality—introducing the Metaverse to the real physical world, perhaps a more attractive and fascinating alternative than a Virtual Reality headset. Slap on a pair of AR Glasses and have your garden transformed into a cinema. This is the level of epicness we’re talking people, let your desires run wild (Wow, I’m really starting to sound like Lucifer here).
AR brings the best of both worlds into one—the physical. Still want to go visit your friends while participating in the Metaverse? Go for it. How about go shopping? Those AR glasses will make your shopping experience a hundred times easier, I guarantee it. It’s a win-win.
So Which One Is the Winner?
There is no winner because both technologies are already enjoying a lot of attention, and both will play a pivotal role in the way the Metaverse comes into being. It’s too reductive to look at the Metaverse as either AR or VR—it will most likely be an interesting mix of both.
You can choose your level of immersion and experience at any time. Do you want to be able to stay in touch with your surroundings while enjoying a virtual experience? Go with AR. Do you want to fully immerse yourself in a game or experience? It’ll be VR for sure.
Variety is the spice of life, and being able to partially or fully immerse yourself in a virtual world or augment your reality with virtual items will inevitably contribute towards whatever the Metaverse is becoming or will be.
Like it or not, both technologies are here to stay, and both already have a considerable userbase who are fully invested in what this exciting technology has to offer.