Meta Connect 2022: My Take On Its Consumer-Focused VR, Avatar, And Metaverse Announcements
Meta hosted its Meta Connect event virtually on October 11. Here are a few key announcements and my analysis from a consumer perspective. Not all of these announcements are new, but they are highlights for me from Meta’s event:
A Quest Pro headset will be available on October 25, 2022, at a $1,499.99 USD price point.
My take: Meta is not truly targeting the consumer market here — at least not yet. Meta is selling a headset that offers an experience that most consumers could only aspire to have at home. Meta wants to show consumers (and enterprises) what is possible. Most VR usage is gaming, yet VR games don’t match up to the PC- or console-based immersive gaming experiences. There are also far more games for non-headset devices. Imagine these headsets in commercial environments (think arcades) or special enterprise environments that warrant the precision, granularity, and speed of a higher-end headset.
Horizon Worlds will be available on smartphone app and browsers.
My take: This is more necessary for Meta than actually strategic. There is only one “it” device globally, and “it” is the smartphone. There is no other ubiquitous device with so much utility at current price points. If Meta wants the scale of its other platforms, it needs the smartphone. Headsets may never be the way (in my lifetime?) that most consumers access the internet. App developers have also struggled with driving app downloads — beginning with discovery or findability in app stores with millions of options. The browser has the fewest barriers to finding and using new experiences.
“The metaverse will profoundly change every part of every company.” (paraphrased)
My take: I don’t agree — the real world is too compelling and there is (still) too much friction in digital. The metaverse is an “and,” not an “or,” for today’s digital experiences. Mark Zuckerberg referred to the metaverse as the next big leap forward in computing after the desktop and mobile. I think that view overpromises. The eventual metaverse has the potential to change gaming, education, social media, workplace collaboration, and more — no argument. However, virtual will only compete with the real world in some — not all — use cases, even those I’ve mentioned. Yes, I could exercise with a VR headset on. But given the choice, I’d rather run, bike, or swim along the northern coastline of San Francisco on a fall day. And while I may attend an hour-long virtual event in the metaverse, I’ll probably stick to the real world to buy toothpaste, play with my dog, and meet up with my friends.
Keep in mind that Forrester’s vision for future experiences is that they will be simultaneously more immersive and more invisible. At times, we (consumers) don’t want to engage with brands at all — we want them to be invisible; that is, we want brands to do things on our behalf: make smart suggestions, protect our money, let us know when it is time to board a flight, and more. I don’t want to talk to a customer service agent in the metaverse — I just want the products or services I purchase to work and or self-repair. The metaverse is not a wholesale replacement for everything we do online or in person today. Rather, it’s another option we have.
“Showcased avatar interoperability among the Meta platforms”
My take: Allowing my identity to roam Meta properties is a good starting place. Ultimately, Forrester’s definition of the metaverse is that my avatar can roam anywhere (see this report for our take). Meta also spoke to the proposed openness of its platform. My take: First, if I spend real time and money to customize my avatar, then I want to benefit from that investment everywhere. Those in/around the industry have both debated and contested the eventual market for digital goods to personalize avatars and spaces in these environments. A lot is unknown here. It is fun to watch the luxury brands experiment. Meta is launching a store (soon?). We’ll see.
Consumers may not want to be a literal digital twin of themselves everywhere. It’s OK on Meta. I (at least) do not have multiple personas across Meta’s properties. However, I post differently on LinkedIn than on Instagram. And I want to show up at work differently than I do at a concert. Most avatars I’ve seen are quite flattering: perfect skin, body, muscles, and more. Some of this is consumer choice. Some of this is technology limitations. Keep in mind, some of the fun and benefits of virtual are simply being something or someone else online. Maybe I want to be a serval cat or a sea otter.
Eye-tracking in the new VR headsets
My take: It’s super cool technology, and we need to be careful. Eye-tracking can do many things. I’ll focus on three big things. First, eye-tracking can improve the performance of a user’s VR headset (good article here). Eye-tracking allows for a speedier, more efficient, higher-quality rendering of virtual experiences that adapt to the shape of my head (kind of — the focus of my eyes). The device can focus on granularity where my eye is focused rather than the entire frame. Doing so gives me a better experience … and doesn’t confuse my brain and put me off balance. Second, it can mimic the direction or movement of my eyes on my avatar. The technology is super cool. Third, in addition to improving the quality of my experience, it can also interpret the movement of my eyes to create insights on my perceptions, intent, or emotions. There are some positive use cases here but also creepy ones if this data is monetized through advertising or similar. Consumers have spent years learning how to block advertisers and brands from watching their every move online — this would be one of the next frontiers.
Technology that can create super realistic avatar versions of our real selves — including our movement
My take: It’s cool technology that isn’t here today, but it’s essential to Meta’s vision of its social future. Meta showcased a lot of technology or demos from its labs to give us a glimpse of the future. Look up “codec avatar” online. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the real person and the avatar. Emotionally, I may be unprepared to have a digital twin. It’s fun to think about the possibilities and the trade-offs. Maybe I want instant translation of my English into Japanese at a conference for work? Maybe I’d like to pre-record a speech for an event? I could give my speech to my digital twin avatar and let it do the work?
Meta also talked about augmented-reality glasses — not likely this year or next year, but it will be interesting once it happens. Our research is here. The company also showcased some other advanced and powerful technology: tools for creators, neural radiance fields, inverse rendering, instant avatars, codec avatars, and hand-gesture recognition or control (i.e., electromyography, or EMG).
If you want to talk more about the metaverse, please get in touch with Forrester. If you’d like to understand more about Forrester’s take on the evolution toward the metaverse, take a look at this report.