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What exactly is the metaverse? Is it a fully immersive, parallel, 3D digital world that we live, play and work in? Or is it a series of interconnected virtual experiences that we seamlessly navigate through with our wearable digital avatars and accessories? The exact nature of the metaverse is not yet entirely clear, nor is the extent to which it exists today.
While there is no precise definition of the metaverse, there is no denying that it will increasingly be present in all aspects of life. In fact, Gartner expects that by 2026, “25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social media, and/or entertainment.”
I believe that the metaverse is not just a goal that we achieve through technological devices, but rather a digital identity that we carry across platforms and experiences. Regardless of how we define this concept, the role of digital identity seems to remain a constant in all visions of the metaverse. This digital identity will include how we present ourselves visually and acoustically. It encompasses the digital assets we own and the digital spaces in which we operate.
For the metaverse to ultimately be successful, I believe three main technological capabilities must be in place:
- Personalization of the user’s identity or identities.
- The ability to carry identities across platforms.
- Access from the user’s mobile device.
Cross identity, cross platform
Today, our online personas are typically associated with email addresses, user IDs, and profile photos, and we often use the same username across platforms, even if we sign up with a different email address. Fast forward to the future: our digital avatars are now functioning as our online identities, with users spending more time in the metaverse, both for business and entertainment. It’s only natural that users would want to own their personal information and the identities they customize for the Metaverse, which vary based on their activity. For example, her personality at her Metaverse workplace will likely be different from her identity at a Metaverse nightclub, just as it would be different in real life.
Users can select a visual avatar from one system, an audio identity from another, and animations from a third, and use these customized avatars to connect their real and virtual worlds. Venture capitalist Rex Woodberry observed, “In Web3, identity becomes portable and combinable…What matters is that disparate elements of your identity coalesce into a digital place that you own and control.”
For the metaverse to really take off, there needs to be a strategy that enables individuals to access and meaningfully connect with their digital identities on a daily basis, across devices. Developers are working to extend current augmented and virtual reality experiences by improving the design of VR headsets to make them lighter, more connected, and more affordable.
Businesses looking to attract more users must allow them to carry their digital identity across the metaverse regardless of entry point or platform — for example, by implementing the universal Virtual Studio Technology (VST)-like standard for audio avatars.
What does this mean for the short and long term vision for the Metaverse? Our digital identities must be easily accessible in all facets of our lives. A digital identity, only accessible through a VR headset or desktop computer, will only be relevant for the hours we spend with such devices. In other words, the Metaverse needs to travel the same way we do.
Smartphones: The Gateway to the Metaverse
The metaverse must also be accessible to the widest possible audience on the most widely used and easiest-to-adopt device. Today that device is the smartphone. The bulk of internet activity is currently taking place via mobile phones. In many countries, including the US, people opt for a smartphone when they can only afford a device with an internet connection. With this in mind, it is not surprising that the number of smartphone users worldwide could reach 4.5 billion by the end of 2024.
Just as laptops didn’t go away with the advent of smartphones, browser-based metaverse social experiences will continue, even as AR glasses and headsets become commonplace. While it will take time for hardware to catch up with software, it is an essential step in reaching the majority of potential Metaverse citizens operating in the gaming world.
When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the upcoming acquisition of Activision Blizzard in January, he bolstered the company’s gaming footprint and ability to deliver mobile experiences, stating that gaming “will play a key role in the development of Metaverse platforms will play”.
With an estimated three billion gamers worldwide in 2021, smartphones are key to driving mobile gaming, which in turn will drive the metaverse.
While technology has yet to catch up with the vision of the metaverse, companies are making strides. NewZoos Introduction to the Metaverse The report confirms that “Together we are heading towards greater participation in interconnected simulated environments that are even more boundless than our real one.”
The successful companies in this space will be those that attract the widest audience through an immersive, inclusive, and mobile experience. They will help build a universally accessible metaverse that will allow users to personalize their digital identities, which they can then carry across interconnected virtual worlds whenever and wherever they are.
Jaime Bosch is the co-founder and CEO of Voicemod.
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