Google, Microsoft, Meta (Facebook), Amazon, and Apple make the Big Tech Five, dominating stock market values and global tech usage. Given their size, what role are they playing in shaping the Metaverse?
2021 definitely felt like the year that Big Tech embraced the Metaverse. Facebook became Meta. Microsoft Mesh arrived with its holographic avatars, while NFTs started to be talked about in relation to Instagram and YouTube.
Not to mention, the Big Five market cap of $9.3 trillion equals the next 27 US companies put together. So when tech industry companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft talk, what they say matters. But did their announcements about the new digital world amount to an AR and VR revolution?
Looking at Big Tech’s medium-term vision of the future, it’s clear that big money is flowing into VR worlds, NFTs, AR wearables, and much more. And we also know that the Big 5 are fully on board with this next-gen digital economy. So let’s tease the hype from the substance and examine where they are headed.
Out of the five, Facebook made the biggest play to dominate the Metaverse in 2021. Now rebranded as “Meta”, the social media giant is focusing investment heavily on virtual worlds and AR, with a view to providing the infrastructure these worlds require.
As CEO Mark Zuckerberg says, the aim is to switch from being a "social media company to a Metaverse company", and that requires serious investment in meta platforms and hardware. Meta is reportedly developing the “world’s most powerful supercomputer” to handle Metaverse data processing, while it has also announced NFT trading plans for Facebook and Instagram.
By 2020, the company’s R&D had reached $18.5 billion, while capital expenditure on data centers and other key elements was expected to rise by 80% in 2021-22. Leaving no doubt that Zuckerberg is backing up the Metaverse concept with serious capital investment.
Eventually, the technology developed (and owned) by Meta will power immersive virtual worlds. The company already owns headset brand Oculus, and it’s a fair bet that whatever Meta-projects Zuckerberg’s team comes up with, users will be encouraged to access via Meta’s own tech.
In the meantime, Meta is also expanding the commercial appeal of Oculus, having sold 60,000 units to consultancy Accenture for staff training in 2021. That kind of high-level but limited Metaverse application is likely to be more common in the short term. However, even the firm’s executives caution that such a Virtual Reality space could be 15 years away.
Providing Meta's tech teams can reduce the weight and cost of headsets, improve their efficiency and visual performance, within a decade Meta’s virtual worlds should be full of commercial energy and social life.
Where Meta has led, Microsoft has followed – and rapidly. Having built a name for desktop operating systems, the Seattle company is now committing major resources to build professional Metaverse tools – a niche that’s sure to grow as remote working expands.
The company’s signature Metaverse-ready tech is Mesh – a networking tool based around holographic imaging. Mesh will allow companies to create lifelike avatars for meetings in the virtual world. It should also work with Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, a wearable made for navigating AR environments.
This would mean little coming from an unknown developer. However, the importance of Mesh lies in its relationship to MS Teams. It’s essentially a step-change in Teams’ capabilities, and with 250 million monthly Teams users worldwide, that’s a big reservoir of early adopters.
But it’s not all about business communication. Microsoft is developing a two-front approach to Metaverse investment that blends recreation and team-working. In early 2022, the firm announced the $68 billion acquisition of games company Activision Blizzard. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella puts it, “Gaming is the most dynamic and exciting category in entertainment across all platforms today and will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms.”
Microsoft isn’t creating the foundations for virtual reality worlds. Instead, it is positioning itself to provide tools to use and explore those virtual worlds, alongside new ways to fuse real-world work and immersive virtual reality.
So far, Apple has generated far fewer Metaverse-related headlines than Microsoft or Meta. However, don’t write off the Cupertino company just yet. Its activities may be low-key, but you can be sure that Apple will play a core role in how we use the Metaverse when it matures.
And what Apple does is important. As Morgan Stanley’s tech experts commented in 2021, the mass adoption of Virtual Reality and AR worlds will likely take place “when Apple enters the race.” Apple is a world leader in introducing consumers to radical new tech, and accessible entry points to the Metaverse will be crucial.
We know that Apple is developing a mixed reality headset codenamed N301 which should be sleeker, more comfortable, and more powerful than alternatives. Rumors suggest that battery life remains an issue, and this could be a stumbling block for engineers as the demand for VR hardware grows.
Google has also played a background role in the Metaverse buzz but as with Apple, this doesn’t mean Alphabet’s engineers and developers are letting the opportunity slide.
Google has experience in AR, and this probably explains why the company is avoiding excessive hype. In the 2010s, it heavily promoted Google Glass as next-generation wearable tech to access services like Maps or Gmail. However, Glass faltered due to public outrage over the in-built video recorder, and Google’s appetite for wearable launches receded.
That seems to be changing. In 2020, Google acquired North, the developer of AR-friendly Focals wearables. Since then, we haven’t seen any new Focals products come to market but the hope is that North’s expertise is being integrated into glasses that blend power and comfort (without privacy scandals).
Alongside wearables, Google also unsurprisingly aims to dominate searching in the virtual world. As CEO Sundar Pichai puts it, Google’s future lies in delivering “radically more conversational experiences”.
Expect searches integrated with Augmented Reality modeling and Artificial Intelligence that understand exactly what is required, as well as a rush to understand how to stand out in the digital world as a new generation of SEO emerges.
Additionally, Google’s YouTube platform has been making waves in the Metaverse with the announcement of verified NFT videos and the prospect of watching gamers in virtual environments.
Right now, the details are a little vague. A YouTube blog simply states that the company will “work to bring more interactions to games and make them feel more alive”. But it’s an indication of where Google is heading. It's easy to imagine tie-ins with virtual gaming companies like Epic Games and new forms of digital advertising in the Metaverse digital space - exactly where Google's previous business is focused.
In some ways, Amazon is the odd one out among the tech giants. There have been few marquee announcements from the company about the Metaverse, and no big tech plays for consumers are on the horizon.
However, there’s one key reason why that’s an illusion: Amazon dominates Cloud storage services, and Cloud storage is set to host and power the Metaverse worldwide.
Amazon Web Solutions commands around 33% of the Cloud services market, making it easily the biggest player. This has led Meta to partner with AWS in its development strategy, while potentially transformative technologies like Mawari’s 3D streaming tools are also hosted on Amazon servers.
Amazon is the platform of choice for concepts like Digital Human as a Service (DhaaS), which are powering next-gen Augmented Reality wearables, while the company’s Wavelength division is dominating 5G rollouts of AR and Virtual Reality technology.
None of that is necessarily obvious to consumers, but Amazon is quietly putting in place tech that Web3 developers need, and serving Big Tech partners at the same time.
In one way or another, all of the Big Five tech companies are investing in the Metaverse. Some like Meta are extremely ambitious, seeking to create a virtual reality platform that will dominate the rest. Amazon is quietly positioning itself as an infrastructure provider, while Microsoft’s networking tools are likely to lead the way for professional users.
Where does this leave smaller companies? Potentially, in a very good place, providing they take the opportunities that arise from emerging Augmented Reality and VR technology.
You won't need to be Mark Zuckerberg to benefit from meta platforms. The platforms created by tech giants will be fertile places for selling goods and creating completely new digital experiences. They could become go-to options for staff training and reaching out to audiences and markets.
If you want to realize the potential of the Metaverse, CGTrader can help. Modelry allows almost any company to generate large quantities of 3D models that are ready for deployment in AR apps, games, and Virtual Reality environments. As the Metaverse comes online, these assets could become a goldmine.
Find out more by getting in touch with our team, and explore the ways to augment your business. New tech offers boundless scope to experiment, create and invest. And whether you're engaged in designing apparel or selling real estate, we offer the tools required.