Microsoft offered a look at the company’s metaverse on Tuesday at its Virtual Ignite conference with the announcement of Mesh for Teams and Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces.
Mesh for Teams combines the mixed reality capabilities of Microsoft Mesh, which allows people in different physical locations to participate in collaborative and shared holographic experiences, with Teams, Microsoft’s online meeting, chat and collaboration product.
With Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces, formerly the Dynamics 365 Connected Store, an organization can collect data about its physical spaces and obtain insights from that data using artificial intelligence. For example, it could track foot traffic through a retail space, measure interest in special displays, or reduce queues at the checkout in real time.
“The metaverse enables shared experiences in both the physical and digital worlds,” explained Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Communications Frank X. Shaw in a corporate blog.
“As companies accelerate their digital transformation, the metaverse can help people meet in a digital environment, make meetings more comfortable with the use of avatars, and facilitate creative collaboration from around the world,” he wrote.
Return to Office Headwind
Microsoft’s announcement of its two new metaverse apps comes in the wake of Facebook’s announcement I change my name to meta, a sign that sees the construction of the metaverse as the key to its future success.
“It’s a hot topic, so Microsoft has caught the attention of Meta-the-company,” noted Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst at Technical research, a technology market research and consulting firm in Foster City, California.
“The ironic thing is that all of this is happening just as we see people returning to the office, in which case the demand for some of these things won’t be as great as it seems right now,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“People will find that going back to the office will solve some of the problems this technology tries to address,” he said.
“That said,” O’Donnell continued, “there is no doubt that people will continue to look for hybrid solutions. In those situations where people work remotely or in a hybrid environment, they will want better collaboration tools. This is what Microsoft is offering. “
Work in progress
O’Donnell explained that Microsoft, through applications like Mesh for Teams and Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces, is saying there will be different types of metaverse. “He’s saying you can do much more practical and business-centric things than these crazy types of consumer applications,” he said.
These tools give us a limited view of the metaverse, noted Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group, a consulting services firm in Bend, Ore.
“This starts to give us an initial idea of a small portion of what the metaverse will be able to do,” he told TechNewsWorld. “But it’s like reviewing a book after seeing a mostly complete chapter. To get a full idea of the metaverse, we will have to wait until most of it is completed, that is, years later. “
Michael Inouye, principal analyst at ABI research, agreed that the metaverse as a realized concept is still many years away, but as that future approaches, there are many ways a platform like mesh for teams can bring the cause forward.
“Digital assets and virtual goods, for example, will play a bigger role in how users express themselves and represent their digital characters and workplaces,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“We can consider the increase in NFTs [or non-fungible tokens] as an early indicator – along with virtual goods and cosmetics in games – that the market is starting to see virtual objects on a similar level to physical and real goods, “he said.
“This is why many compare the metaverse to the Internet,” he noted. “It will be the fabric that links together what are currently disparate experiences and applications.”
Device independence Important
Mesh for Teams is a very early and very raw manifestation of the nascent metaverse, said Darin Stewart, vice president of research at Gardener.
“Allowing people to interact in a semi-immersive environment is the most obvious aspect represented, but device independence is more important,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Teams Virtual Meeting Space (Credit: Microsoft)
“The ability to use any device or headset to access Mesh is the key feature that qualifies it as a metaverse tool,” he explained.
“The whole point of the metaverse is to evolve the Internet into an engaging and inclusive environment,” he continued. “This requires a neutral playing field that allows platforms from multiple vendors and developers to interact seamlessly.”
At this time, even entering the metaverse can be a problem, because the headphones used to access it are uncomfortable if worn for long periods of time.
“Until Mesh for Teams and other mixed reality enablers are available in a form as convenient as regular reading glasses, applications like these and the metaverse as a whole will be little more than a tool for specialists and new to general users, “Steward said.
Both Mesh for Teams and Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces have the potential to improve productivity and operational efficiency in businesses.
“The benefit of working together with products like Mesh is that they make people feel like they’re interacting in the same room,” explained Wayne Kurtzman, director of research for social, communities and collaboration at IDC.
“They see the same things and in real time,” he told TechNewsWorld. “For training, onboarding, technical work, education or just attending a meeting, there is a significantly greater and more authentic commitment.”
Inouye pointed out that Mesh for Team’s kind of immersive collaboration has already proven its value in areas such as application engineering, manufacturing, and design, where teams can work on 3D designs simultaneously or in parallel.
“This greatly improves efficiency, ensures greater accuracy and allows companies to be more innovative,” he said.
Struggle with data
With Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces, businesses can better manage the data created by the many interconnected devices in the metaverse. It can help companies collect, organize and analyze data, then implement changes and updates based on those results.
“Companies can find ways to increase efficiency, better target their customer base and personalize their experiences,” noted Inouye.
“This covers the range of applications and depends a lot on industry and use cases, but regardless, whether it’s video workflow, warehouse or point of sale, data will play a key role in how organizations are they adapt to changing market needs and improve their operations “.
In announcing its metaverse tools as close to the Facebook update as Meta, Microsoft could do so at some risk.
“Unfortunately, the timing of the announcement juxtaposes Mesh’s true potential with widespread criticism of Facebook’s rebranding as a Meta and launching its own avatar-based presence platform,” noted JP Gownder, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research.
“Business leaders remain skeptical of Meta’s approach, expressing concern about Facebook’s commitment to safety, privacy and ethics,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Given the similarity of the two ads, Microsoft could be painted with the same broad brush.”