AR and VR are slated to reach a level of eXtended Reality that is accessible and affordable. But will it stick?

Gaming firms have been toying with the metaverse for quite a while. Big Tech, led by Meta, Microsoft, and Apple, has been committing billions of dollars to make this mixed-reality world a buzzword. 

Naysayers abound, with many dismissing the massive investments to get into the metaverse as being out of tune with what users want.

However, Sangram Surve, Managing Director, Think WhyNot Group, tells there are many reasons for heralding the metaverse as an imminent part of the future.  

DigiconAsia: Please explain the pre-metaverse paradigm of moving from consuming text to enjoying audio visual content? 

Sangram Surve (SS): We have seen content evolve in the past few decades. An early iteration was when content moved from ‘offline’ to ‘online.’ We started consuming our news, articles, and stories online.

Content then moved from websites and portals to social platforms.  And it is here that we rapidly moved to visuals and images: Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest accelerated this trend.

Facebook algorithms encouraged us to think more visually: the 20% text rule still applies! Content creation has also become increasingly became user-generated, and regular girls (and guys) have become photographers, thanks to smart phones and smart filters.

The next iteration for content short videos. Tiktok led this trend. Instagram pivoted to Reels. Youtube made changes to its format through YouTube shorts. The smartphone ecosystem supported the already existing easy video-making interfaces of Reels and Tiktok and added hundreds of apps to make video-editing a DIY thing. 

Sangram Surve, Managing Director, Think WhyNot Group

DigiconAsia: How much does the Gen Z and millennial crowd decide the fate of brands online?

SS: Today, we consume most content in video form. And this content is created by ‘Creators,’ an aspirational buzzword amongst the Gen Z and the Millennials.

Today, we have Creators for every category: Beauty, Finance, Fashion, Food, Entertainment, Comedy, Real Estate, Reviews, and so on. But every trend has a cycle, and it gives way to another.

So the next logical successor to the content-trend seems to be around the corner: Immersive. 

DigiconAsia: Why do you say that the content-era ahead will be immersive? 

SS: Immersive content is the language of the future internet: The Manifested Web. Immersive content is coming through two forms: Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).

AR is already here. We have already seen it in niche business applications and fun Apps like Snapchat and Instagram. ARI will be the Segway to VR — the “full immersive internet” as Big Tech calls it. 

But will any of these technologies be mainstream, with mass acceptance from users? Maybe the next few trends ahead will give us those answers. For example, what will the phone evolve to? A strong contender for this very valuable space could be AR glasses. Meta has already invested billions of dollars in XR wearables. The firm is coming up with follow-up devices, which could be more affordable and fully AR. Apple continues to tease us with the impending launch of its AR glasses.

These devices will sit tethered, wired or wirelessly, to our phones, which are already AR-ready. They will extend the capabilities of our phones in more ways than one. Some of the things already being explored by other AR glasses in the market, as NReal include:

    • Giving users a full 180-degree screen to watch video content (a strong alternative to big physical TVs)
    • Adding a layer of content to our existing worlds. See navigational cues as you walk; read extra layers of content on a billboard; see translations of a foreign language through your wearable; read recipes of your favorite dish while you cook; or read virtual guitar music sheets while you play.
    • Consuming audio visual content on the go, while being sucked into portals and alternate worlds through AR.

AR glasses will be the bridge to XR. But any XR technology depends on rich media, processing power, and bandwidth. Expect to see consumer-grade AR glasses arrive in 2023. But will all phones be able to handle rich media?

When it comes to smartphones being XR-ready, the battle has to be won on the hardware and bandwidth front. There is good news on the bandwidth front; with telecom bandwidth opening up, 5G will be widely available worldwide. India joined the bandwagon only in October 2022, but 5G is expected to be available in 13 cities in 2023. 5G will make our phones and wearables metaverse-ready on the bandwidth front. 

DigiconAsia: How will generative AI impact metaverse trends in 2023? 

SS: Currently, generative AI is text-to-image, text-to-poetry, etc. But soon, we will have text-to-video, text-to-3D, and a lot more. We will see massive progress on all fronts during 2023 due to the power of generative AI being democratized.

Most of these developments, I feel, will first be seen in AR, paving the way for XR later. When affordable and user friendly AR glasses arrive, it will be tempting to add rich layers of information to an existing poster, to pick a piece of furniture from a brochure and place it in your room with just your ‘eyes’.

There will be opportunities to reimagine everything 2D into rich, immersive multi-layered 3D. The hardware, the software, the bandwidth, and the tools to create are getting ready. It is time to ensure our sense of imagination keeps pace.