Microsoft has announced it will become the latest technology behemoth to explore opportunities related to the concept of metaverses.
At its annual Ignite conference, the company said it intends for its cloud services to provide the foundation for the world’s metaverses (for there will apparently be multiple).
Microsoft also detailed new products and services designed to “continue the evolution of the metaverse”, which the company is treating as an entirely new technological medium.
Perhaps the most eye-catching announcement is that Microsoft is bringing its holographic communication service, Microsoft Mesh, to collaboration platform Teams. The integration will apparently “enable new experiences with personalized avatars and immersive spaces where users can connect with presence” via mixed reality headsets.
In a world in which many employees are beginning to adopt a hybrid working model, the arrival of Mesh functionality on Microsoft Teams is supposed to bridge the gap between the physical and digital realms.
Microsoft Teams users will gain access to the Mesh integration in preview at some point in the first half of 2022.
More immediately, however, customers will be able to take advantage of an adjacent product called Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces. Arriving in preview next month, this service will allow businesses to “gain a new perspective on the way people move and interact in nearly any space, from the retail store to the factory floor”.
Apparently, the new platform will help companies optimize their operations, maximize safety in high-risk settings and generally improve the employee and customer experience.
Although the term metaverse has been thrown around with great energy and enthusiasm by technology companies this year, the concept is still relatively ill-defined.
By Microsoft’s definition, a metaverse is “a persistent, digital world that is connected to many aspects of the physical world, including people, places and things. The metaverse enables shared experiences across both the physical and digital worlds. ”
“As we discuss the metaverse, we are thinking about both a new medium and an app type, like the way we talked about the web and websites a long, long time ago, aka the 1990s,” the firm explained.
For anyone still in the dark, a metaverse is a space where technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality combine with collaboration tools, video conferencing services and social media platforms to create new ways for people to interact remotely, in both professional and recreational contexts. Beyond this rather open definition, there are no further specifics as yet.
According to Frank X. Shaw, Corporate VP at Microsoft, the Microsoft Cloud boasts a number of facilities that make it ideally suited to underpinning a metaverse, such as deep IoT capabilities, mixed reality services like Mesh and AI-powered resources “to create natural interactions through speech and vision machine learning models ”.
It appears that Meta (nee Facebook) is not the only company that will be vying for influence over the architecture and content of the metaverses, whatever they eventually look like.