By Luc van Huystee, VP Mobility & Metaverse Solutions, Europe, TD SYNNEX
Metaverse continues to be a buzzword in the IT industry. This concept of how physical and virtual worlds are absolutely blended and become new places for people to live their lives and buy and sell has been hotly debated over the last 12 months or so.
Much of the interest in the metaverse comes from how Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg sees the future of his business in building a metaverse. He is backing this up with serious investments in new products and technologies. The latest of these is the very impressive advanced virtual reality headset the Quest Pro.
Understanding the potential of the metaverse in 2023 and beyond it is important to put the concept in context. The irony is that for all its exciting ambitions, the metaverse is the latest catch all phrase for a revolution in extended reality technologies, services and solutions that’s been gathering pace in recent years.
The umbrella term for the market is extended reality. Its main components are virtual reality, which immerses users in a fully digital, computer-generated, interactive environment through a headset or surrounding display; augmented reality, which overlays digital 2D or 3D content and information onto the real world via a mobile device or headset; and mixed reality that allows digital and real-world objects to exist together and interact in real time.
Analyst firms are tracking healthy growth for extended reality. For example, IDC projects the EMEA AR/VR market to grow substantially in the next few years exceeding $16 billion USD in 2024.
So how are we going to reach this level of growth?
Returning to the autumn 2022 announcement of Meta’s Quest Pro, it is becoming even clearer that the opportunities for progressing extended reality technologies lie more in the enterprise than the consumer space. At the launch, Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen was reported as saying the high launch price made it a device more suited to “high-end, enthusiast and potentially enterprise users” than mass-market.
Perhaps of more significance than its price is how Meta accompanied the launch with evidence of how it is working hard to bring enterprise applications into the metaverse. Microsoft 365 will be available on Quest Pro, as will Teams and Zoom.
As someone who talks to all of the major vendors about VR and AR kit, I am not surprised that analysts see the new Meta VR headset better suited to enterprise applications. The projections for the take-off of extended reality are much more about commercial than consumer applications, and in fields like collaboration, training, support and design.
The potential of the enterprise dimension to AR and VR underlies how the line up of hardware platforms is expanding. While Meta gets the lion share of interest, this autumn also saw Lenovo spread its wings with new AR devices. Notably, their CEO Yuanqing Yang emphasised how the metaverse could benefit the world of work saying: “The future workspace liberates us. We gather the best of the two worlds — the touch and the feel of the real workspace and the access and reach of the virtual workspace — under the convenience and flexibility of switching between the two”
Realising the ambitions for the extended reality market will depend on the technology channel as much as the hardware platforms and associated software. This is simply because these implementations of AR and VR in the workplace comprise many spinning parts from hardware to software to support. The channel can help package up extended reality solutions that address customer needs whether its enhanced collaboration, virtual training, or the more complex solutions in the industrial or design space. For some resellers, this market offers first mover advantage too, especially when they can overlay their vertical expertise onto these new technologies.
But how the channel addresses this market does require a clear strategic vision and a distribution model that’s designed to facilitate extended reality solution development and deployment.
Firstly, resellers need to have access to all the key hardware platforms which are supporting the growth that we have seen to date. As well as Facebook, these comprise Google with its Glass hardware, Microsoft HoloLens, HP’s headset range and more recently Lenovo’s ThinkReality VRX headset which is purposely designed for the enterprise. Underpinning these products is the commitment of companies like Qualcomm and their Snapdragon XR technologies in processors, sotware and perception technologies. Secondly, the fuel for future growth lies in how a reseller can draw on independent software vendors who complement the hardware and will allow them to go after horizontal solutions. Thirdly, access to services like configuration and financing that help get extended reality projects off the ground and resolve any objections about cost and risk.
Whether it’s called the metaverse or extended reality, the practical applications of VR, AR and mixed reality are going to become better know and more widely applied across all kinds of industries and sectors. The channel can play a pivotal role here when they can aggregate the right hardware, software, and services to create unique solutions for their customers.