Meta, Apple, Google and Microsoft are gearing up for a big year of augmented reality


2022 is poised to be the most important year yet for “the metaverse”, as Facebook’s parent Meta, Apple, Microsoft and Google prepare to launch new hardware products and software services in what until now was a niche market for early adopters.

The “metaverse” describes software and hardware that allow users to play or work in virtual 3D spaces, or to extract information from the Internet and integrate it into the real world in real time. For now, the metaverse can be accessed via a smartphone, but eventually it will be experienced through advanced virtual reality or augmented reality headsets, according to supporters.

Big tech companies are betting that gadgets that transport their users to improved or imaginary worlds will open up the biggest new software market since Apple introduced the touchscreen smartphone in 2007. If the metaverse takes off, then maybe everyone who has a smartphone today will too. have a pair of computer glasses or a VR headset in a few years.

“Big tech platforms (which have benefited from the boom in mobile computing applications) are now looking to augmented reality as the next change in computing platform,” wrote Eric Sheridan, analyst at Goldman Sachs, in a note. of December. He said this appears to be the “next logical shift in consumption patterns” and will create new industry leaders.

Companies invest dollars in research and development in prototypes and foundational technologies and prepare for a virtual battle when their products hit the market.

Venture capitalists invested $ 10 billion in virtual world start-ups in 2021, according to Crunchbase, and that doesn’t count the budgets of Big Tech players. For example, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company spent so much money on VR and AR in 2021 that it cut the company’s profits by $ 10 billion.

Goldman Sachs analysts estimate that up to $ 1.35 trillion will be invested in developing these technologies in the coming years.

Here’s where the big names in tech are and what they are expected to release next year:


Facebook’s testing of its new Horizon Workrooms remote work app for its Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headsets is shown in this document image obtained by Reuters on August 18, 2021.

Facebook | Reuters

Facebook relies on metaverse technologies. In fact, in 2021 it changed its name to Meta Platforms to reflect the new direction of the company.

Meta is one step ahead of its Big Tech rivals: it currently manufactures and sells virtual reality hardware and accounted for 75% of the market in 2021, according to IDC.

At Christmas, the most popular app in Apple’s US App Store was the Oculus VR app needed to use a Quest 2 headset, an imperfect but significant sign that many people found VR hardware. under the Christmas tree.

Meta has not released sales figures for its Quest. But Qualcomm, which puts the chip at the heart of the Quest, valued that the company shipped 10 million units in November. These aren’t smartphone numbers, but they are important – and spurred on by the big TV advertising campaigns flogging the material.

Meta plans to release another virtual reality headset this year which it calls Project Cambria. The device, according to Facebook, will have hardware that makes it better for “mixed reality,” or using cameras outside of a VR headset to direct the real world towards the viewer. Meta says it will also include face and eye tracking, which will make the device more responsive to user controls.

Meta’s first foray into the market gave the company a first glimpse of the software users want to start on their headsets. This month, he launched a social platform called Horizon Worlds, where people can attend comedy shows and movie nights in the virtual world of Facebook.

Meta has acquired several companies that make popular apps for Oculus headsets, especially supernatural, a practice game in which users hit floating blocks in time with a beat.

This strategy may be subject to antitrust review. The Federal Trade Commission has opened a full investigation into the $ 400 million acquisition, The information reported.


Augmented reality

Source: Apple

Apple never confirmed it was working on a headset, but it has been developing prototyping approaches within its tech development group for years.

Apple laid the groundwork for a major new product category. Its new iPhones are equipped with Lidar sensors, which can measure how far away an object is, which is essential for location-based applications. Newer iPhones and iPads have software installed called ARkit, which allows developers to build apps that use the iPhone’s sensors for precise room mapping and location.

These technological bricks lay the foundations for a brand new product, which should be a high-end headset manufactured by Apple that mixes virtual reality and augmented reality, which would have could be launched in 2022.

Unlike Meta, Apple doesn’t discuss new hardware products until they’re ready to be revealed. When Apple releases headphones, it will likely shake up the entire market and offer a new take on many challengers, like the iPhone did for smartphones and the Apple Watch for smartwatches.

Apple’s competitors will be keeping a close eye on what Apple CEO Tim Cook touts as his headset’s top pros and selling points.

The content and the way in which Apple integrates its services will be decisive for the attractiveness of the device. Will Apple introduce a new app store for virtual reality apps? Will the Apple headset have any exclusive content or VR-based sports or music as a result of its purchase of NextVR?

Investors and market analysts are starting to question whether future sales of headsets or other reality-based gadgets should push Apple’s stock even higher if it releases its first major new product category in seven years. .

“Apple’s current market value does not reflect new product category launches,” Citi analysts wrote in December. “That will change with the launch of the new AR / VR headset in 2022.”

Apple won’t call it a “metaverse,” however. “I’m going to stay away from the buzzwords. We just call it augmented reality,” Cook said in september.


Alphabet glass used in manufacturing


Google kicked off the headphone craze in Silicon Valley when it introduced Google Glass in 2013. The experiment wasn’t well received, but Google hasn’t given up. To date, Google sells Glass headsets to businesses, but they are generally not available to consumers.

Now, there are signs that Google is getting serious about augmented reality again, although it doesn’t have as many products or technologies publicly announced as its competitors. Since the release of Glass, new AR headsets have been introduced with more sophisticated displays, better sensors and more powerful processors.

Google, whose Android operating system is the world’s most popular smartphone software, has among the most to lose if headsets and metaverse devices supplant the smartphone with a new operating system.

In 2020, Google bought North, a well-capitalized startup working on lightweight AR glasses that was a spiritual successor in functionality to Google Glass.

Google now has a new team focusing on operating systems for augmented reality, according to a post shared by senior manager Mark Lucovsky in December. Prior to joining Google, Lucovsky worked at Meta’s Oculus.

According to job postings, Google is hiring heavily for this team, which is working on an “innovative AR device” and adding products “to the AR portfolio”.


Soldiers wearing the IVAS system, a modified version of the HoloLens 2.

The American army

Microsoft was the first major tech company to introduce a full-featured AR headset, HoloLens, in 2016. But its current product is still a long way from a device consumers will wear regularly.

Instead, Microsoft has focused on “the business” or selling headsets to businesses that can afford the list price of $ 3,500 and want to see if the technology makes their employees more productive.

The most prominent customer of HoloLens is the US military. Microsoft won a $ 22 billion deal earlier this year to sell 120,000 personalized HoloLenses to the government so that soldiers can use them to “increase lethality.” However, earlier this year the military said it delay the start of a HoloLens field test until 2022.

Whether the deal continues to be delayed or if it turns out to be a winner for both parties will be an important signal for the ultimate health of the augmented reality market.

HoloLens has also sparked interest from medical companies, who want to see if augmented reality can help improve operating rooms or even do surgery remotely.

Microsoft is investing heavily in cloud services to be the glue of the virtual worlds that should be made public in 2022.

In March, the company announced Mesh, which allows software makers to build apps that allow different devices to share the same digital reality. The mesh works much like a video call, only with three-dimensional holograms. Microsoft laid the groundwork for this push in 2017 when it acquired AltspaceVR.

These metaverse software features will launch in 2022. Microsoft will integrate Mesh into its video conferencing app, Teams, later this year. Features for Xbox games, another natural adjustment, are also on the way, no release date again. But it remains to be seen whether AR headsets improve the kind of productivity apps Microsoft is best known for.

Still, CEO Satya Nadella is enthusiastic.

“I can’t overstate how much of a breakthrough this is,” Nadella said in November.


Margie D. Carlisle