Even early enterprise metaverse solutions are at least 3-5 years away
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It will take many years and many technological breakthroughs to actually realize the metaverse.
The challenge is that the metaverse is really not one thing, any more than computing is one thing. It is more of a concept than an architecture. It takes a whole host of components to make it work, and those components will vary by use case. For example, the kind of metaverse business environment needed in a manufacturing or healthcare environment is very different from the kind needed to collaborate on a piece of software in a workgroup environment.
The metaverse will be driven in years to come by solutions to certain problems, and not by a general, horizontal power, although there will obviously be some horizontal components that cross the solution boundaries.
The metaverse requires vastly expanded bandwidth, but more importantly, vastly reduced latency. That’s really the key to metaverse connectivity. Anything above a millisecond or two makes it untenable. That is why true 5G connectivity for mobile users with its low latency is so crucial. Another major challenge with the metaverse is that it requires a completely redesigned user interface. And such a user interface will not be created anytime soon, and probably not universal (each major provider may have its own unique version). See how long it took to get to Windows 10 from CP/M and DOS, and that will give you an idea of the amount of work the user interface will require (although obviously it won’t take decades). And it won’t be just one UI – there will be several optimized for different things (gaming, collaboration, AI-powered VR/AR, etc).
The metaverse needs huge amounts of computing power in CPU, GPU and special AI acceleration components. There is little concern that these will be available in the relatively short term, as the progression of computing power remains strong and even accelerates (more processing power in shorter time periods). But using the technology in the most effective way is not easy. And new technologies need to be perfected for more sensually stimulating and immersive possibilities for the metaverse, such as touch, heat and cold, smell and even taste. While it won’t happen anytime soon, hard work is underway to make it a reality.
Since all of the above has to be created and perfected, it is not easy to define a timeframe for the metaverse. It will take at least 4-5 years, maybe more, to get many of the needed solutions in place. There will be components that will come online sooner (such as AR/VR gaming, digital twins for multiple use outside factories, and systems that allow some degree of collaboration). But fully AI-powered metaverse capabilities will require a host of breakthroughs that aren’t even in the offing yet, and that will take time.
All the major platform vendors are aiming for a metaverse vision (e.g. Meta, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Nvidia, etc.), but if these big players become part of the new metaverse, they will take over startups that have cornered a niche technology they need (much like the advancement of so many other technologies that the big players have acquired over the years). I expect to see a lot of M&A in metaverse in the next 3-5 years – not all of them successful. But before then, we’ll have to see some major breakthrough technologies from startups, many of which are still in the conceptual stage or just beginning their journey.
I expect the metaverse as a whole will take at least a decade to materialize, but subsets of it will come sooner. As with any new field of technology, most people are better at joining the hype than understanding the difficulty of creating reality. So we will continue to hear a lot of inflated messages around the metaverse and the kind of value it can deliver.
I do expect that the metaverse will eventually add business value, but it will take some experimentation before we know exactly how much. We could definitely see AR/VR/AI add to the ability to repair equipment, help set up and build products and facilities, assist with operations, train people in new skills, etc. But we’re talking about a new user interface and a new way of interacting with the technology – new psychological and physiological experiences – and that will take some time to get right.
In short, companies should explore how to use metaverse solutions, even if they are not deployed for 3-5 years or more. Getting ahead by experimenting when new options become available is always a good course of action, especially for companies that want to be at the forefront. But large-scale implementations will take several years, and companies should expect that, as with any emerging technology, not all installations will be successful. It’s important to stay flexible.
Jack Gold is the founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, LLC., an information technology analyst firm based in Northborough, MA, that focuses on the many aspects of business and consumer computing and emerging technologies. Follow him on Twitter @jckgld or LinkedIn on https://www.linkedin.com/in/jckgld.
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